Preschool children’s evaluations of their own unjustified requests

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To make a fair request, requesters should consider the perspective of the requestee and contrast his or her needs with their own needs. Making an unjustified request (e.g., requesting something we do not need but the requestee does need) can induce some negative feelings such as guilt. Here, we investigated whether making unjustified requests resulted in negative emotions in 3- and 5-year-old children. Participants (N = 83; 34 girls) requested resources that they did or did not need from an experimenter who either did or did not need them. Both age groups were slower and more hesitant to make an unjustified request (children did not need the sticker, but the experimenter did) and also showed lowered body posture when making an unjustified request compared with when making a justified request (children needed the sticker, but the experimenter did not). Three-year-olds showed more pronounced changes in their posture, whereas 5-year-olds’ emotional expression was overall more blunted. Rather, older children relied more on verbal indirect utterances (e.g., “You’ve got lovely stickers”), as opposed to direct requests (e.g., “Can I have that sticker?”), when making unjustified requests. These results suggest that preschool children already apply impartial normative standards to their requests for help, account for the fairness of their requests, and consider the needs of others when requesting.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105377
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Emotion
  • Moral reasoning
  • Normativity
  • Posture
  • Prosociality
  • Requests


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