She Helped Even Though She Wanted to Play: Children Consider Psychological Cost in Social Evaluations

AbstractSometimes we incur a high psychological cost (for example, forgo something we really like) in order to fulfill social or moral obligations. How would the information of incurring psychological costs influence children’s social evaluations? Prior work suggests that children do not recognize the virtue of resolving inner conflicts until age 8. In two studies, we de-confounded costs from inner conflicts and found that when the difficulty was not explicitly stated as having conflicting desires (a self-interested desire and a moral desire) at once, most 8- to 9-year-olds and some 6 to 7-year-olds gave adult-like favorable evaluations of the character who overcame psychological or physical difficulty to act morally. Moreover, neither adults nor children inferred conflicting moral and personal desires spontaneously. These together suggest that children’s evaluation of moral virtue depends on understanding of cost rather than conflict: Physical cost is incorporated early in development, and psychological cost later.

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