The Role of Victims’ Emotions in Preschoolers’ Moral Judgments

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing out that there may be different types of crybabies. Our Crybaby character cries without feeling hurt, but someone could also be a crybaby becuase s/he is overly sensitive and is genuinely hurt by things that would not hurt most other people. It is possible that children may respond differently to these two different types of crybabies. But because the current investigation focuses on the role of felt harm, we chose to emphasize that no harm has been caused in the case of our Crybaby character.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all of the child participants and their parents and teachers for their cooperation in this research. Thanks also to the members of the Cognition and Development Lab, especially Melissa Kibbe, Katya Saunders, and Lu Wang, for their assistance in developing stimuli and testing subjects. This research was supported by NSF grants BCS-0725169 and BCS-0922184.

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Correspondence to Deena Skolnick Weisberg.

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Weisberg, D.S., Leslie, A.M. The Role of Victims’ Emotions in Preschoolers’ Moral Judgments. Rev.Phil.Psych. 3, 439–455 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-012-0101-8

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Keywords

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Moral Judgment
  • Moral Rule
  • Test Question