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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preschooler’s evaluation of authority figures’ third-party punishment of a moral transgression Ma, Yunru


Punishment, despite its negative nature, plays a crucial role in fostering cooperation within human society by deterring antisocial behavior and promoting prosocial behavior in long-term social interactions. Although some evidence suggested children would consider the target's previous prosocial or antisocial actions in their socio-moral evaluation (Geraci, 2021; Hamlin et al., 2011; Lee & Warneken, 2020; Loke et al., 2011), some showed they do not (Li et al., 2020; Li & Tomasello, 2018; Van de Vondervoort, 2020). One possible explanation is that children are opposed to punishment from an ordinary citizen who is not in the position to punish. We hypothesize that children may perceive punishment as acceptable when carried out by authority figures. To explore this hypothesis, the present study investigated whether 3- and 4-year-old children would consider the context in which helping and hindering occur in their evaluations when the moral agents were depicted as holding authority status. Contrary to our prediction, both 3- and 4-year-old children negatively evaluated the punishing police officers and positively evaluated the rewarding police officer regardless of whether the target was previously prosocial or antisocial. They preferred the rewarding police officer when asked about liking, the rightness of the action, and identifying the good police officer. We discussed possible reasons for our failure to detect children's context-dependent moral evaluations using the current study design, and proposed future direction to explore this topic. These findings contribute to our understanding of how contextual information influences children's moral judgment about third-party interventions and shed light on the developmental trajectory of children's sociomoral cognition.

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