The effect of moral character on children's judgements of transgressions

Sophie Cameron*, Matti Wilks, Jonathan Redshaw, Mark Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Research in adults has revealed that observers may be more forgiving of a third party's moral transgressions if they view them as having a positive moral character. While there is evidence to suggest that children engage in this behaviour by 11 years of age, it is unclear when in development it emerges. The current study thus investigated whether children 6–11 (N = 126) years old use moral character in their moral evaluations. Across 6 trials, children were introduced to agents of varying moral characters (good, bad, and mixed) who had performed a moral transgression. Children were then asked to judge this moral transgression by either rating the unacceptability of it or suggesting an appropriate punishment. We found that moral character affected evaluations for all ages in this sample, suggesting that children have this capacity from 6 years old. Furthermore, we found that judgements of unacceptability were driven by leniency for ‘good’ characters, and suggestions of punishment were driven by harsher punishment for ‘bad’ characters. This suggests further research in younger populations, as well as investigation into potential differences between making a judgement and suggesting a punishment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101221
JournalCognitive Development
Early online date14 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jul 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • moral character
  • moral evaluations
  • punishment


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