Five-year-old children value reasons in apologies for belief-based accidents

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Accidents can be intent-based (unintended action-unintended outcome) or belief-based (intended action-unintended outcome). As compared to intent-based accidents, giving reasons is more crucial for belief-based accidents because the transgressor appears to have intentionally transgressed. In Study 1, UK-based preschoolers who were native speakers of English (N=96, 53 girls, collected 2020-2021) witnessed two intent-based or belief-based accidents; one transgressor apologised, the other apologised with a reason. Only 5-year-olds favoured the reason-giving transgressor following a belief-based accident but not an intent-based accident (where an apology was suffice). In Study 2, 5-year-olds (N=48, 25 girls, collected 2021) distinguished between “good” and “bad” reasons for the harm caused. Thus, 5-year-old children recognise when reasons should accompany apologies and account for the quality of these reasons.
Original languageEnglish
JournalChild Development
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Nov 2022


  • moral reasoning
  • moral common ground
  • belief-based accidents


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