Children’s Socio-Moral Judgments and Behaviors toward Peers with and without Incarcerated Parents

Dunlea, James; Goel, Devyani; Heiphetz, Larisa A.

Adults often respond negatively toward children with incarcerated parents. Yet, the developmental foundations for such negativity remain unclear. Two studies (N=331 U.S. residents; plurality White; plurality male; data collected between Winter 2019 and Spring 2021) addressed this topic. Study 1 probed 5- to 6-year-olds’ and 7- to 8-year-olds’ inferences about peers with and without incarcerated parents. Children reported less certainty that peers with, versus without, incarcerated parents possess moral beliefs. Study 2 showed that among older children, inferences about parental absence did not fully account for this pattern of results. Across studies, children behaved less generously toward peers with, versus without, incarcerated parents. These studies illuminate how early socio-moral judgment may contribute to negativity toward children with incarcerated parents.

Keywords: moral cognition; punishment; social cognitive development


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Child Development

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August 30, 2022