The development of moral motivation at 6 years of age



Publication Details

de Rosnay, M. & Fink, E. (2012). The development of moral motivation at 6 years of age. In R. Langdon & C. Mackenzie (Eds.), Emotions, Imagination, and Moral Reasoning (pp. 17-44). New York, United States: Psychology Press.


This chapter considers the development of children's moral motivation at approximately 6 years of age, a time when children understand that certain transgressions (e.g., stealing) are "wrong" in a moral sense (Smetana, 1993, 2006) but are unable to engage in the kind of reasoning that is characteristic of mature moral deliberation (Rest, 1983). Two perspectives on children's moral motivation-happy victimizer expectancy and conscience development-are presented and contrasted to better understand why children choose actions that they consider moral. In Study 1, we explore the developmental predictors and behavioral correlates of moral motivation using a longitudinal study of 115 children between kindergarten and year 1. In particular, we focus on children's psychological perspective-taking and their empathy as predictors of moral motivation, and we explore how moral motivation relates to children's social competence and behavior. In Study 2, we examine happy victimizer expectancy and ask, by way of observing child-child interactions, whether so-called happy victimizers really fail to understand the emotional consequences of moral transgressions or whether they simply fail to report such emotional consequences to researchers. Our findings suggest that children's conscience but not happy victimizer expectancy is closely linked to their empathy and positive social conduct.

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