A Psychological perspective on early moral judgements

Time period: 2009-01-01 to 2012-01-01

Project leader: Benjamin Kenward

Funder: Riksbankens Jubileumsfond

Type of award: Project grant

Total fundning: 2 040 000 SEK

Moral judgements of actions take into account not only the actions’ outcomes but also the intentions behind them. An action with an unintended harmful outcome is not necessarily judged as morally wrong. Infants are already known to be able to distinguish between deliberate and accidental actions, and between actions with harmful or helpful outcomes. This raises the possibility, which this project will investigate, that moral judgements can be made very early, if these two abilities to distinguish can be integrated. Three-year-olds can make moral judgements, but nothing is known about younger children because it is difficult to apply existing methods of investigation. This project will develop methods which do not rely on speech, such as puppet theatre in which the children themselves can take part. One technique to allow the children to reveal their judgements without using words is to give the children the possibility to punish wrongs done by dolls, for example by withholding resources the dolls otherwise would have been given. This line of investigation is also interesting because the desire to punish is in itself an interesting aspect of human psychology, but it is so far unknown how it emerges. One important part of the project will be a longitudinal study in which we investigate how factors such as infants' early abilities to evaluate social actions, their temperaments, and their parents’ attitudes, all influence their ability to make moral judgements at age three years