Is Gratitude Intuitive?

Have you heard this tale? In ancient times, an escaped slave hid in a cave only to encounter a wounded lion. Although afraid, the man helps the lion, removing a thorn from its paw. The lion is forever grateful, shares his food with the man and, eventually, saves his life.

If this millennia-old fable sounds familiar, you may have encountered it as a child. Variations of “Androcles and the Lion” appear in Aesop’s Fables and Roman folklore, and the story persists in children’s books today.

Stories like these capitalize on a lesson that most people consider to be deeply natural and intuitive: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Given the relevance of this proverb in daily life, like many psychologists before us, we assumed that this principle would be at play in the behavior even of young children.

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