Harm, affect, and the moral/conventional distinction

Mind and Language 22 (2):117–131 (2007)
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The moral/conventional task has been widely used to study the emergence of moral understanding in children and to explore the deficits in moral understanding in clinical populations. Previous studies have indicated that moral transgressions, particularly those in which a victim is harmed, evoke a signature pattern of responses in the moral/conventional task: they are judged to be serious, generalizable and not authority dependent. Moreover, this signature pattern is held to be pan‐cultural and to emerge early in development. However, almost all the evidence for these claims comes from studies using harmful transgressions of the sort that primary school children might commit in the schoolyard. In a study conducted on the Internet, we used a much wider range of harm transgressions, and found that they do not evoke the signature pattern of responses found in studies using only schoolyard transgressions. Paralleling other recent work, our study provides preliminary grounds for skepticism regarding many conclusions drawn from earlier research using the moral/conventional task.



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Author Profiles

Stephen Stich
Rutgers - New Brunswick
Daniel Kelly
Purdue University