The Development of Intention-Based Morality: The Influence of Intention Salience and Recency, Negligence, and Outcome on Children’s and Adults’ Judgments

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Two experiments were conducted to investigate the influences on 4-8 year-olds’ and adults’ moral judgments. In both, participants were told stories from previous studies that had indicated that children’s judgments are largely outcome-based. Building on recent research in which one change to these studies’ methods resulted in substantially more intention-based judgment, in Experiment 1 (N = 75) the salience and recency of intention information were increased, and in Experiment 2 (N = 99) carefulness information (i.e., the absence of negligence) was also added. In both experiments even the youngest children’s judgments were primarily intention-based, and in Experiment 2 punishment judgments were similar to adults’ from 5–6 years. Comparisons of data across studies and experiments indicated that both changes increased the proportion of intention-based punishment judgments—but not acceptability judgments—across age-groups. These findings challenge and help to explain those of much previous research, according to which children’s judgments are primarily outcome-based. However, younger participants continued to judge according to outcome more than older participants. This might indicate that young children are more influenced by outcomes than are adults, but other possible explanations are discussed.

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