Development of morality, prosocial and antisocial behaviour


What is moral reasoning?

  • A person's sense of justice, or what its right and wrong (and why)
  • Moral and social domains - distinguishing what is right because of general issues like harm, fairness, and rights (moral domain) and what is right because of rules and social contet (social/conventional domains)
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What is prosocial behaviour?

Behaviour that is intended to promote the welfare of specific others or social groups, and when that behaviour has no specific benefit (or a specific cost) to the actor

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What is antisocial behaviour?

  • Behaviour that harms specific individuals or social groups
  • When harm is foreseen
  • Or when it is foreseen but dismissed
  • i.e. Aggression, opposition/defiance, lying, rule breaking, theft/destruction of property
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What is empathy?

  • Affective response stemming from apprehension or comprehension of another's emotions, similar to what the person is feeling - Eisenberg, 2000
  • Can be broken down into multiple components - emotional, motivational and cognitive - Decety, 2010.
  • Contrast to sympathy: feelings of sorrow or concern for another
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Moral development in infants and toddlers

Early moral development mostly reflects the emergence of empathy and the 'moral emotions'

  • Empathic behaviour appears early (particularly the affective components) 
  • Newborns become distressed when they hear another child crying (but are less distrressed if it is their own cry)
  • 10 week old infants show mimicry of facial expressions
  • 18-36 months - children show differential responses to different negative emotions (sadness vs pain)
  • As children develop they are more likely to express their empathy via sympathy rather than personal distress 

Precursoers of guilt are present from about 2 years - by 2-3 years children show awareness and emotion signs of empathy and reparative behaviours. Discomfort about wrongdoing, apologies, concern about others' wrongdoing, all increase between 2-3 years. Guilt is thought to develop around 3 years.

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What is Decety's model of moral dev?


Appraisal / reappraisal (feed-forward processing from emotional regulation to affective arousal)

Affective arousal / Emotional understanding / Emotion regulation (Underlined by motivation)

Functional at birth / Develops rapidly durinng 36mths / Develops throughout childhood and adolesence

Moderator variables: Attitudes, dispositions, mood and motivations

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Hamlin (2013) study

  • Hamlin (2013) argues that babies are born with a 'innate' sense of good and bad (morality)
  • Infants prefer helpers to hinderers in multiple tasks - shown by looking behaviour at 3 months, and reaching behaviour at 4.5 months.
  • 75-100% of infants preferred the helper puppet.
  • By 10 months infants incorporate intentions into their judgements - only show a preference when the puppets knew the goal/desire and acted accordingly
  • Prior to 2 years, infants punish hinderers and prefer antisocal characters who harm hinderers
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Moral development in childhood and adolescence

By early childhood, there are basic signs of moral behaviour, particularly in the emotional domain - how do we get from empathy (affect) to morality (cognition)?

  • Some researchers suggest that we combine these early emotional responses together to form rudimentary schemas about 'right' and 'wrong' - Arsenio and Lover (1995) - i.e. all these things lead to the same negative empathetic response, they must all come under the umbrella of 'bad'.
  • As children develop further, they can start to develop these rudimentary schemas into more abstract principles - 'its wrong to discriminate against someone' 'it's wrong to hurt someone' 'its good to help/share'
  • The most studied changes in morality during childhood and adolesnce are thoughts about morality and moral acts
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What are Nucci and Gingo (2011)'s stages of m.d?

  • 2-3 years: The basic building blocks for morality are in place - children have developed understanding of self-other and empathy and they appear to make very basic judgements about 'good' and 'bad'
  • 5-7 years: Children recognise basic obligations - hurting others is bad, keeping all of a shared is bad
  • 8-12 years: Harm is wrong and helping is right - non-moral elements are generally ignored. Fair = equal distribution of goods. Later stages start to integrate equity and concepts of reciprocity.
  • 12-14 years: Multiple factors attended to but not integrated - leads to moral ambiguity.
  • 16 years +: Can coordinate multiple moral factors
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Theoretical perspectives on m.d.

  • Behaviourism and SLT: Moral development invollves acquiring behaviours and internalising standards via usual learning routes - e.g. reinforcement, modelling
  • Psychoanalytic perspective: Moral development is a process of incorporating societal standards into the superego - thereby controlling/constraining base instincts and desires
  • Biological / evolutionary perspectives: Morality is 'hard wired' into our brains through general evolutionary pressures and individual genetic variations.
  • Cognitive perspectives: The development of cognitive abilities drive more complex thought and reasoning about moral issues. Development of moraluty viewed as a product of general cognitive development.
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SL approaches to morality

  • Focus on how environment produces prosocial behaviour
  • Moral conduct learned through reinforcement and modelling - not all prosocial behaviour has to be directly performed and subsequently reinforced for learning to occur. Abstract modelling occurs as children begin to develop generalised principles that underlie observed behaviours.
  • But not all models are equal - preschoolers are more apt to model behaviour of warm, responsibe, competent, high prestige adults and peers.
  • Children do more that simply mimic unthinkably - by observing moral conduct, children are reminded of societies norms about importance of moral behaviour as conveyed by S.O's. Connections between particular situations and certain kinds of behaviour.
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Cog approaches to morality

  • Use moral dilemmas to assess moral reasoning
  • Propose a series of fixed stages in development of moral reasoning.
  • Initially proposed by Piaget - teacup dilemma.
  • Two basic stages: 1) Younger children's moral judgements are based purely on adult's rules, with little understanding of intention. 2) Older children (+10 years) develop morality based on cooperation and social exchange - come to understand that intentions are important
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Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development (L1)

  • Level 1: Pre-conventional morality (around 9 years): At this level, we don't have a personal code of morality. Instead, our moral code is shaped by the standards of adults and the consequenes of following or breaking their rules.

Incorporates stages 1 and 2

  • 1: Obedience and punishment orientation - child/individual is good in order to avoid being punished. If a person is punished they must have done wrong.
  • 2: Individualism and exchange - At this stage children recognitive that there is not just one right view that is handed down by the authorities. Different individuals have different viewpoints.
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Kohlberg - L2

Level 2: Conventional Morality

At the conventional level (most adolesents and adults), we begin to internalise the moral standards of valued adult role models. Authority is internalised but not questioned and reasoning is based on the norms of the group to which the person belongs. Consists of stages 3 and 4.

  • Stage 3: Good interpersonal relationships - The child is good in order to be seen as a good person by others. Therefore, answers are related to the approval of others.
  • Stage 4: Maintaining the social order - The child becomes aware of the wider rules of society so judgements concern obeying rules in order to uphold the law and to avoid guilt.
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Kohlberg - L3

Level 3: Post - conventional Morality

Individual judgement in based on self-chosen principles, and moral reasoning is based on individual rights and justice. According to Kohlberg this level of moral reasoning is as far as people get. Only 10-15% are capable of the kind of abstract thinking necessart for stage 5/6. That is to say most people take their moral views from those around them and only a minority think through ethical principles for themselves.

  • Stage 5 - Social contract and Individual Rights: The child becomes aware that while rules/laws might exist for the good of the greatest number, there are times when they will work against the interest of particular individuals. The issues are not always clear cut. (i.e. in Heinz's dilemma, the protection of life is more important than breaking the law against stealing)
  • Stage 6 - Universal principles: People at this stage have developed their own set of moral guidelines which may or may not fit the law. The principles apply to everyone - e.g. human rights, justice and equality. The person will be prepared to act to defend these princples even if it means going againsst the rest of society in the process and having to pay the consequences of disapproval and or imprisonment. Kohlberg doubted few reached this stage.
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Evaluation of Kohlberg's Theory

  • Rosen (1980) -  the dilemmas are artifical. The sample aged 7-16 had never experienced this kind of situation, so it was hard to apply their own experiences in the task.
  • Gilligan (1977) - Sample bias. All male sample. Reflect a male stage of morality. Based on law and justice, whilst womens is based on principles of compassion and care.
  • Dilemmas are hypothetical - issues with validity.
  • Poor research design - cross-sectional study - interviewed children at different ages; a better way would have to have done a longitudinal design instead. Colby (1983) - carried out a longitudinal study on 58 male participants for a span of 27 years and found support for Kohlberg's original conclusion. 
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Gilligan's perspective on m.d.

Gilligan suggested gender was a large factor in moral development. Boys: Broad principles (justice and fairness) / Girls: Responsibility toward individuals and self-sacrifice in specific relationships. Suggested differences in how children are raised underpins views of moral behaviour (i.e. links with SLT).

  • Stage one: Orientation toward individual survival: Initial concentration is on what is practical and best for self. Gradual transition from selfishness to responsbility, which includes thinking on what would be best for others. 
  • Stage 2 - Goodness as self-sacrifice: Initial view is that a woman must sacrifice her own wishes to what other people want. Gradual transition from 'goodness' to 'truth', which takes into account needs of both self and others. 
  • Stage 3 - Morality of nonviolence: A moral equivalence is established between self and others. Hurting anyone - including one's self - is seen as immral. Most sophisticated form of reasoning, according to Gilligan.
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Evaluation of Gilligan's theory

  • The idea that there are different 'moral orientations' has become more popular, and that there are difference between genders. Women are more oriented towards care and men towards justice.
  • Jaffee and Hyde (2000): Gender only accounts for 17% of variance in justice/care reasoning.
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Domain approaches - Nucci and Gringo (2011)

  • Children can distinguish between right and 'moral' wrongs and social/conventional wrongs from the age of 3.
  • Moral transgressions are seen as wrong regardless of the presence or absence of rules, authority, or social conventions. 
    • 5 year old children will say it's not OK to hit someone, even if there isn't a rule of absence of rules, authority, or social conventions
    • But they will say that it's OK to call a teacher by their first name 
    • 4-6 year old children focus more on the act than the authority figure when asked to commit a moral transgression, but the same does not apply for social conventional/transgressions
  • The idea that moral transgressions are wrong is fairly consistent across cultures - but what falls into the 'moral' category sometimes differs, which could explain variations in cultural norms of morality
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Are young children prosocial?

  • Experiments consistently show young children (18mths) helping adults - Warneken (2015), quickly, and without being prompted. Helping actually declines if children are rewarded for it! Included control condition for comparison - threw clothes pin on floor and did not reach for it in order to detect when help was needed.
  • Overall increase in prosocial behaviours over childhood - Eisenberg et al (2006). 
  • Starts with rudimentary behaviours related to empathy (and perhaps guilt and shame) - reparative behaviours.
  • Three big cognitive developments in the 2nd year of life:
    • Children begin to understand rules and norms
    • Develop the ability to discriminate between self and other
    • Behaviour regulation starts to become more defined
  • But it's not ever-increasing - sometimes prosocial behaviour isn't appropriate. Expression of prosocial behaviour isn't appropriate is modulated by multiple factors (type of behaviour / methodology / individual differences)
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Prosocial behaviour

  • No single pattern of specific, individual personality traits determines prosocial behaviour, although there are some links (correlative) between prosocial behaviour and emotional control. 3 year old children who were rated as impulsive and displaying high negative emotions were judged as less prosocial at 21 years old - Newman et al (1997)
  • But development of prosocial behaviour is also influenced by evolutionary tendencies, genetics and socialisation, and occurence of prosocial behaviours is dependent on context. 
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Genetic contributions to prosocial behaviour

  • Genetic contribution - small in young children (0-30%) / larger in adolesence (30-80%) and larger in adults. Perhaps because cognitive factors that influence prosocial behaviour (and may be genetically determined) develop later into life (or due to methodological differences in measuring prosocial behaviour)
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Effects of socialisation upon PB

  • Family: Different parental techniques
    • Encouraging children to reflect on the consequences of their behaviour on other people / responding to reasonable requests from children / discussing causes of emotions / punishment for not acting prosocially is not effective.
  • Empathetic parents:
    • Parents who respond sensitively to their children's needs 
    • Secure attachment
  • Quality of the relationships between siblings also important
  • External influences:
    • Peer group values have a great impact on children
    • Children who have reciprocated friendship are more willing to help one another against peer difficulties
    • Incorporating values of trust and support into the whole school community can promote prosocial behaviour in children
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Gender diffs in prosocial behaviour


  • Girls are more consistently helpful than boys
  • Girls are better at peaceful conflict
  • Boys less likely to ask for help
  • Boys more likely to help in public or when female needs assistance
  • Significant differences between adolescent boys and girls in terms of empathy towards a peer in distress.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to be kind and thoughtful but not more likely to share or help. They are more likely to act in a prosocial way when the person in need is an adult
  • Different socialisation practices used by parents towards their sons and daughters can explain these findings


  • Differ in terms of culture - taught cooperation = high levels of prosocial behaviour
  • Collectivist culturs value both forms equally or reciprocal helping more
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Antisocial behaviour

  • More complicated but also more studied than prosocial behaviour
  • Most children initate antisocial behaviour before 3 years old
  • Overt behaviours (aggressive and antisocial behaviour) decrease with age - peak frequency for aggression in humans aged 2-4 (before emotional control mechanisms kick in and cognitive development allows the use of other strategies). 
    • No real peak for oppositional behaviour in early childhood, but steady decrease in frequency between 4-18 years
    • There is a small percentage of the popn that bucks both of these trends
  • Covert behaviours (rule breaking and theft/vandalism) tend to increase with age
    • Girls show higher increase in covert behaviour than boys
    • Boys are more likely to be aggressive in general, and are particularly overpresented in antisocial behaviour
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Causes of antisocial behaviour

  • Antisocial behaviour is related to negative emotions or lack of emotional control
    • 3-4 year olds who displayed high negative emotions were more aggressive - Crick et al, 1971
    • Lack of emotional control at 3 years predicted antisocial behaviour - can encourage or normalise antisocial behaviour, peer rejection associated with higher levels of aggression, causal relationships between peer rejection and aggression likely bidirectional
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Moffit (1994) - Life course PSB

Life-consistent persistent ASB associated with:

  • Fairly consistent ASB from early years - although exact form of ASB may vary
  • Early neuropsychological ris - verbal and EF deficits
  • Possible genetic influenes (particularly temperament and cognitive abilities) 
  • Parental contributions - parenting style/interactions (note these can be elicited as well as naturally occurring)
  • Leads to a restricted behavioural repertoire; no other options for solving problems; no opportunity to learn other options
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Moffit (1994) - Adolescent ASB

Adolescence-limited ASB associated with:

  • Abrupt onset (early adolescence) and offset (early-mid 20's) sporadic periods of calm
  • ASB instigated by social mimcry
    • More socially driven than life-course
    • Probably related to desire for mature social status
  • Stop due to shifting reinforcement contingencies - growing risk/dwindling reward
  • More likely to have alternative options available - other ways to make money and/or solve problems 
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Combining life-course and adolescent ASB

  • Negative correlations between judgements of antisocial behaviour and prosocial behaviour
    • Aggression and prosocial behaviour in 3 and 4 year olds (Crick et al 1997)
    • Aggression and antisocial behaviour and prosocial behaviour in adults (Krueger et al, 2001)
  • Opposing links to emotional control/regulation - Caspi et al, 1997
  • But prosocial and antisocial behaviour may have different developmental origins
    • Twin studies suggest antisocial behaviour has more genetic basis than prosocial behaviour - Krueger et al, 2001
    • Extreme antisocial behaviour at 3 years is linked to poorer cognitive performance at 13 years - Moffit et al, 1994 and higher occurence of ASD - Hinshaw et al 1993
      • But direction of causation? Remember antisocial children are more likely to be rejected from their peer group - maybe peer rejection is the link between ASB and poor cognitive function?
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