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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Young children’s social and moral evaluations of third-party helpers and hinderers Van de Vondervoort, Julia W.


The judgment of others’ actions as good and praiseworthy versus bad and blameworthy is fundamental to humans’ sociomoral functioning. The ability to produce such moral judgments was traditionally characterized as a relatively lengthy process, requiring years of experience and cognitive maturation. However, more recent research has demonstrated that even infants are sensitive to morally relevant interactions amongst third parties. What remains unclear is whether infants’ implicit sociomoral evaluations align with young children’s explicit moral judgments. This dissertation explores the maturity of preschoolers’ explicit moral judgments when presented with third-party social interactions similar to those used to demonstrate infants’ implicit moral sense. Chapter 1 provides relevant background information regarding the study of moral judgments across infancy and early childhood. Chapter 2 investigates whether infants’ preferences for those who help rather than hinder others’ unfulfilled goals align with preschoolers’ explicit social and moral judgments. Specifically, two experiments explore whether 3- to 5-year-olds selectively prefer helpers, judge helpers as “nicer” than hinderers, and selectively allocate punishment to hinderers across two different scenarios. Chapter 3 examines the extent to which preschoolers’ judgments are sensitive to individuals’ mental states: Three experiments investigate whether 3- and 4-year-olds’ social and moral judgments privilege others’ intentions to help versus hinder a third party or whether judgments are tied to the outcomes achieved. Chapter 4 explores preschoolers’ ability to consider the context in which helpful and unhelpful actions are performed. Specifically, two experiments investigate whether 3- and 4-year-olds differentially evaluate those who help versus hinder previously prosocial or antisocial others. Finally, Chapter 5 discusses the main findings of this dissertation and several open questions regarding the nature of young children’s moral judgments. Together, this dissertation represents a significant advancement in the understanding of young children’s social and moral cognition. By adapting paradigms developed to study implicit sociomoral evaluations, these studies document important similarities and dissimilarities between infants’ implicit moral sense and young children’s explicit morality.

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