AICE Psychology- Children’s Moral Judgments (Nelson) (1980)

Field experiment, involving interview
What is the aim?
To test the hypothesis that young children take into account motive and outcome in making moral judgements.
Piaget’s theory
Motives were not a basis for judgement for children below 10 years old; children under 10 based their judgements on outcome instead.
Nelson’s contradiction to Piaget
The younger child may not have FULLY understood and so didn’t understand motive.
3 IVs:
Age, motive (good/bad) or outcome (good/bad), and mode of presentation.
3-4 years or 6-8 years
Motive good
Boy playing with ball. Wants friend to join in & throws ball to start game of catch.
Motive bad
Boy playing with ball. Mad at his friend so throws ball to hit friend on purpose.
)utcome good
Friend catches ball and a game of catch begins.
Outcome bad
Ball hits friend on head and makes him cry.
Verbal presentation
Stories described to each child. Child was asked to repeat the story to ensure they understood.
Sampling number
60 preschool children between 3-4 years and 30 second-graders between 6-8. approx half males, half females.
Race of children
Mostly white, from a middle-class urban area
Motive implicit
One set of cartoons have positive & negative motives IMPLIED by facial expressions.
Motive explicit
One set of cartoons have positive & negative motives conveyed explicitly by CARTOON-LIKE THOUGHT BUBBLES above the actor’s head.
The judgement
Done on a 7-point scale using a series of smiley & frowning faces
The frowning/smiling faces
7.5cm in diameter (v good/bad), 6.5cm (good/bad), 5.5cm (a little bit good/bad), 4.5cm (neutral).
7-point scale
7 very good > 6 good > 5 a little bit good > 4 neutral > 3 a little bit bad > 2 bad > 1 very bad.
Design of age and mode of presentation were
Independent groups design, as the children did only one condition of IV.
Motive and outcome design was
Repeated measures, as each child was presented with all four stories.
Ethics: informed consent
Consent given by parents
The cartoons
25x23cm black-and-white line drawings.
why were the children told to repeat the story?
To make sure the child paid careful attention to what was being said.
Same experimenter tested each child; each child had 4 stories, whether they were in verbal, motive explicit or motive implicit conditions.
How were the children assigned to mode of presentation groups?
Children were interviewed by the experimenter, familiarized with rating scales
Given 2 practice stories
Quantitative data
The numbers of smiley/frowning faces in each condition were added and mean score of each calculated.
Qualitative data
Interviewer asked the child to repeat the story – to check interviewer understanding, a second rater was used with agreement of 97%.
Overall good motive mean
Overall bad motive mean
The motives were significant
Overall good outcome mean
Overall bad outcome mean
The outcomes were significant
A bad motive influences…
Judgement more than good motive/outcome.
Mode of presentation findings
Outcome varied with mode, when it was EXPECTED that both outcome and motive would vary. Also when pictures were explicit, good/bad outcomes more judged than when implicit or verbal only.
3-year-olds who rated actor negatively when there was mention of ‘bad’
3-year-olds who ignored outcome and based judgement on motive
3-year olds were…
Less sensitive than 7-year-olds when it came to motive
In study 2 when outcome was presented before motive
Anything negative (motive or outcome) was more influential on judgement than anything positive. Outcome, although presented before motive, didn’t have much more of an effect than motive showing that motive is important & taken into account.
Conclusion for study 1
Young children place more value on valence rather than motive/outcome. Specifically they are more influenced by bad than good.
Why are they more influenced by bad than good?
May be that they learn the concept of bad before good, or that the first negative information they receive influences the rest of the story.
Conclusion 2
Making moral judgements requires understanding of concepts of good and bad and a child must understand the relationship between action, motive and goal to make a judgement.