Children's reasoning with peers and parents about moral dilemmas

Vintage photo created by tirachard -


Children encounter moral norms in several different social contexts. Often it is in hierarchically structured interactions with parents or other adults, but sometimes it is in more symmetrically structured interactions with peers. Our question was whether children’s discussions of moral norms differ in these two contexts. Consequently, we had 4- and 6-year-olds (N = 72) reason about moral dilemmas with their mothers or peers. Both age groups opposed their partner’s views and explicitly justified their own views more often with peers than with mothers. Mothers adapted their discussions to the cognitive levels of their children (e.g., focused more on the abstract moral norms with 6-year-olds than with 4-year-olds), but almost always with a pedagogical intent. Our results suggest that with mothers moral judgments are experienced mostly as non-negotiable dictums, but with co-equal peers they are experienced more as personal beliefs that can be actively negotiated.

Developmental Psychology
Maria Mammen
Maria Mammen
Postdoctoral researcher

I study how children’s interactions with different social partners influences their moral development.