The development of moral shame indicates the emergence of moral identity in middle-childhood

Publication Name

Journal of Moral Education


The question of when moral identity first develops in childhood deserves more considered investigation. In this article, we examine the claim that moral identity first emerges in middle-childhood (8–12 years). An approach is taken here whereby a tendency to attribute moral shame under conditions entailing moral identity failure is considered as indicating the presence of an emerging moral identity. Differences in the emotion attributions (i.e., ashamed, guilty, scared) of 7- and 9-year-olds under moral and non-moral identity failure conditions were examined. Results showing that older children tended to attribute shame under all identity failure conditions while younger children did not, and furthermore that both age groups tended to attribute predominantly guilt under accidental harm conditions, lend weight to the suggestion that moral identity may first emerge in middle-childhood. Implications of this study and its novel approach are discussed.

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