Young children's behavioral and emotional responses to different social norm violations.J Exp Child Psychol. 2016 10; 150:364-379.JE
From an early age, children can talk meaningfully about differences between moral and conventional norms. But does their understanding of these differences manifest itself in their actual behavioral and emotional reactions to norm violations? And do children discriminate between norm violations that affect either themselves or a third party? Two studies (N=224) were conducted in which children observed conventional game rule violations and moral transgressions that either disadvantaged themselves directly or disadvantaged an absent third party. Results revealed that 3- and 5-year-olds evaluated both conventional and moral transgressions as normative breaches and protested against them. However, 5-year-olds also clearly discriminated these types of transgressions along further dimensions in that (a) they tattled largely on the moral violation and less on the conventional violation and (b) they showed stronger emotional reactions to moral violations compared to conventional violations. The 3-year-olds' responses to moral and conventional transgressions, however, were less discriminatory, and these younger children responded rather similarly to both kinds of violations. Importantly, most children intervened both as victims of the transgression and as unaffected third parties alike, providing strong evidence for their agent-neutral understanding of social norms.