Children’s and Adults’ Attribution of Moral Judgments to Human and Supernatural Agents

Heiphetz, Larisa A.; Payir, Ayse

Adults commonly conceptualize intentional harms as worse than accidental harms. We probed the developmental trajectory of this pattern and asked whether children (4- to 7-year-olds) and adults expected other agents—including another person and God—to share their views. In contrast with some prior work, even the youngest children in the present study considered intent when making moral judgments. Although children did not distinguish among the agents when indicating how severely they would punish intentional and accidental transgressors, adults reported that God would punish less severely than would they themselves or another person. Furthermore, children and adults differed in their evaluation of how the agents would react to the transgressors: Adults and older children were more likely than younger children to attribute spiritual and religious reactions to God. These findings suggest that even young children's moral judgments are sensitive to information about intent but that the propensity to distinguish others' focus on intent from one's own emerges more gradually across age.


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Journal of Cognition and Development

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July 21, 2022