The University of Sussex

Children's changing understanding of wicked desires: from objective to subjective and moral

Nicola Yuill, Josef Perner, Anna Pearson, Denise Peerbhoy, Joanne van den Ende

Previous work makes two conflicting claims about children's developing judgements of the emotions of an actor committing a desired but immoral act: children's judgements change (1) from sad to happy, as they come to appreciate desire as a subjective mental state, or (2) from happy to sad, as children acknowledge the role of moral values in emotion. In three experiments designed to explain this conflict, 3-10 year-olds judged emotions of actors committing neutral and immoral acts. Experiment 1 rules out procedural differences as an explanation of conflicting findings. Experiment 2 shows an age change from sad, to happy, to sad (remorseful), integrating the conflicting claims. Experiment 3 shows that 5- but not 3-year-olds can judge ill-doers pleased with their success or remorseful at their wrongdoing, depending on the salience of moral issues. We discuss the roles of cognitive development, moral understanding and moral climate in influencing children's understanding of moral emotions.


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