Young children’s moral judgments depend on the social relationship between agents

Maria Mammen, Bahar Köymen, Michael Tomasello

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Moral judgments can vary depending on the social relationship between agents. We presented 4- and 6-year-old peer dyads (N = 128) with stories, in which a parent (parent condition) or a peer protagonist (peer condition) faced a child in need of help (e.g., the child is thirsty). The dyads had to decide whether the protagonist helped at a cost (e.g., by giving up their water) or not. 6-year-olds expected a parent to help her child more than they expected a child to help a peer. Moreover, children justified their expectations more often with normative statements (e.g., "She has to help") in the parent condition than in the peer condition. Thus, refusal to help a child was more acceptable coming from a peer than from a parent. This shows that young children take into account multiple perspectives and form different normative expectations for different social agents when making moral judgments.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100973
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalCognitive Development
Early online date24 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Moral reasoning
  • Collaborative decision-making
  • Two social worlds
  • Parent-child relationships
  • Peer relationships


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