, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 439-455

The Role of Victims’ Emotions in Preschoolers’ Moral Judgments

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Abstract

Do victims’ emotions underlie preschoolers’ moral judgment abilities? Study 1 asked preschoolers (n = 72) to judge actions directed at characters who could and could not feel hurt and who did and did not cry. These judgments took into account only the nature of the action, not the nature of the victim. To further investigate how victims’ emotions might impact children’s moral judgments, Study 2 presented preschoolers (n = 37) with stories that varied in transgression type (Moral, Conventional, or None) and victim’s reaction (Crying Present or Crying Absent). As in Study 1, children’s judgments were affected primarily by transgression type, and not by emotion. In an analogous task, judgments of children with autism spectrum disorders (Study 3; n = 12) were affected by both transgression type and crying. Typically developing children’s moral judgments are thus concerned primarily with action type, not with emotional displays, but the judgments of children with autism spectrum disorders can be swayed by victims’ emotions.