Developmental Science

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Volume 22 Issue 2 (March 2019), Pages

The ontogeny of intent‐based normative judgments

Abstract When evaluating norm transgressions, children begin to show some sensitivity to the agent's intentionality around preschool age. However, the specific developmental trajectories of different forms of such intent‐based judgments and their cognitive underpinnings are still largely unclear. The current studies, therefore, systematically investigated the development of intent‐based normative judgments as a function of two crucial factors: (a) the type of the agent's mental state underlying a normative transgression, and (b) the type of norm transgressed (moral versus conventional). In Study 1, 5‐ and 7‐year‐old children as well as adults were presented with vignettes in which an agent transgressed either a moral or a conventional norm. Crucially, she did so either intentionally, accidentally (not intentionally at all) or unknowingly (intentionally, yet based on a false belief regarding the outcome). The results revealed two asymmetries in children's intent‐based judgments. First, all age groups showed greater sensitivity to mental state information for moral compared to conventional transgressions. Second, children's (but not adults') normative judgments were more sensitive to the agent's intention than to her belief. Two subsequent studies investigated this asymmetry in children more closely and found evidence that it is based on performance factors: children are able in principle to take into account an agent's false belief in much the same way as her intentions, yet do not make belief‐based judgments in many existing tasks (like that of Study 1) due to their inferential complexity. Taken together, these findings contribute to a more systematic understanding of the development of intent‐based normative judgment.

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