A response set analysis of developmental differences in children's moral judgments

Rachel Karniol*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study tested the hypotheses that 1) children may not adopt a moral response set when faced with moral dilemmas and 2) their knowledge of what constitutes a moral constellation of behaviors may differ from that of adults and may lead to developmental differences. To test these hypotheses, the study examined children's responses to a multiple choice moral dilemmas questionnaire under neutral instructions, instructions to answer as a good child or as a bad child. Subjects in fourth and seventh grade were asked whether a story hero would transgress and were required to justify their answers. In addition, questions regarding affective reactions to transgressions, confessions, and due punishment were asked. Fourth grade children answering in the good child instructions condition tended to give significantly different responses than under neutral instructions, while seventh grade subjects did not tend to differentiate between these two instruction conditions. While adult theories of morality would predict a differentiation between good and bad child instructions, on some of the measures no differences were found between good and bad child instructions. The implications of these results for cognitive-developmental theory were discussed and a general framework for interpreting the data was offered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-26
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1984


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