Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Development of Understanding of Intentionality and Moral Judgments in Preschoolers

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Development of Understanding of Intentionality and Moral Judgments in Preschoolers

Article excerpt

Theory of mind (Premack & Woodruff, 1978) refers to children's ability to understand others' psychological states, including intentionality, false beliefs, wishes, and emotions (Wellman, 2002). In addition, Killen and Rizzo (2014) reported that intentionality, referring to children's concepts of intention, and their usage of intention cues in evaluating actions (Imamoglu, 1976) is closely connected not only with desires and beliefs but also with moral judgments, which are children's responses to morally relevant issues in social interactions (Killen & Rizzo, 2014), because the recognition of intentionality is essential in making such judgments. Therefore, in the present study, we explored the developmental characteristics of understanding intentionality and moral judgments.

Piaget (1932) initially studied the function of understanding of intentionality in children's moral judgments using the dilemma story method. He presented pairs of stories featuring two agents, who showed either intentional or unintentional behaviors that led to outcomes of the same nature but to different degrees. For example, one boy broke three vases when he was helping his mother do the housework, whereas the other boy broke one vase on purpose. The children then judged which boy's behavior was worse and deserving of punishment. Piaget found that children under the age of 5 years could not compare the contexts of the two stories, whereas children aged between 6 or 8 years made moral judgments according to the outcomes and the severity of the damage instead of the intentionality of the behaviors. Further, children above the age of 10 years began to focus on the behavioral agents' motives and intentionality.

Some researchers thought that the tasks Piaget (1932) used were too complex, which meant that the children's abilities were underestimated; thus, the task difficulty level was reduced in later studies. For example, Phillips, Baron-Cohen, and Rutter (1998) used a single story in place of story pairs, a rating system in place of forced choices, and presented pictures or videos while telling the stories. They found that children aged 3 years could tell intentional behaviors from unintentional behaviors and believed that the former should result in more punishments. Further, Malle, Guglielmo, and Monroe (2014) found that children aged about 4 years could make moral judgments according to intentionality. Thus, we decided to focus in this study on understanding intentionality and moral judgments in children aged 3 to 6 years.

On the basis of classic intentionality research, Malle (2006) asserted that skill and awareness are two necessary elements of intentional behaviors, and further stated that the understanding of these variables may affect moral judgments. Awareness refers to whether individuals realize what they are doing when making judgments (Malle, 2006); namely, the achievement of goals and the expectation of outcomes (Laurent, Clark, & Schweitzer, 2015). The skill element refers to whether or not individuals are capable of accomplishing what they want to and achieving expected outcomes (Laurent et al., 2015; Malle, 2006). For example, Malle and Knobe (1997) showed in their pilot study that when a novice dart player hit a rather difficult triple 20 throw on their first try but missed on the second try, only 16% of participants thought that the player obtained the initial good score on purpose. However, if the situation description contained more factors related to skill, for example, if the player hit a triple 20 on two consecutive throws, 55% of participants thought that the initial good score was obtained intentionally.

When children make moral judgments, they do not at first base these on intentionality. According to Piaget's (1932) results and Kohlberg's (1973) theory of moral development, children's moral development advances from a resultsoriented style to a motivation orientation, which indicates that the result of a behavior greatly affects children's moral judgments in early childhood (Hamlin, 2013). …

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