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Our work focuses on the early development of moral cognition and action in infancy.
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Graduate Student Supervision
Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
The judgment of others’ actions as good and praiseworthy versus bad and blameworthy is fundamental to humans’ sociomoral functioning. The ability to produce such moral judgments was traditionally characterized as a relatively lengthy process, requiring years of experience and cognitive maturation. However, more recent research has demonstrated that even infants are sensitive to morally relevant interactions amongst third parties. What remains unclear is whether infants’ implicit sociomoral evaluations align with young children’s explicit moral judgments. This dissertation explores the maturity of preschoolers’ explicit moral judgments when presented with third-party social interactions similar to those used to demonstrate infants’ implicit moral sense. Chapter 1 provides relevant background information regarding the study of moral judgments across infancy and early childhood. Chapter 2 investigates whether infants’ preferences for those who help rather than hinder others’ unfulfilled goals align with preschoolers’ explicit social and moral judgments. Specifically, two experiments explore whether 3- to 5-year-olds selectively prefer helpers, judge helpers as “nicer” than hinderers, and selectively allocate punishment to hinderers across two different scenarios. Chapter 3 examines the extent to which preschoolers’ judgments are sensitive to individuals’ mental states: Three experiments investigate whether 3- and 4-year-olds’ social and moral judgments privilege others’ intentions to help versus hinder a third party or whether judgments are tied to the outcomes achieved. Chapter 4 explores preschoolers’ ability to consider the context in which helpful and unhelpful actions are performed. Specifically, two experiments investigate whether 3- and 4-year-olds differentially evaluate those who help versus hinder previously prosocial or antisocial others. Finally, Chapter 5 discusses the main findings of this dissertation and several open questions regarding the nature of young children’s moral judgments. Together, this dissertation represents a significant advancement in the understanding of young children’s social and moral cognition. By adapting paradigms developed to study implicit sociomoral evaluations, these studies document important similarities and dissimilarities between infants’ implicit moral sense and young children’s explicit morality.
Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Within the last five years, social sciences, especially psychology, have seen problems with replicability and reproducibility. A growing body of evidence suggests that low powered studies, undisclosed statistical flexibility and lack of pre-specified study standards are all contributing factors to a low rate of replicability. Within the realm of infant social evaluation, a topic of both theoretical interest and empirical controversy, both replications and non- replications exist. Given this, and the movement toward replication in psychology in general, this paper will present results both a pre-registered sample and a larger sample that directly replicates Hamlin & Wynn’s (2011) “box scenario”, which examines whether preverbal infants prefer prosocial to antisocial others. Our pre-registered sample did not replicate the original finding seen in Hamlin & Wynn (2011). However, when including all infants tested in the box scenario, the finding did indeed replicate. Overall, our findings add to the scientific understanding of infant social evaluation and provide an important opportunity to add to the replicability movement.
The present study examined developmental continuity in social functioning from infancy to preschool. Specifically, we examined the relationships between infants’ performance on sociomoral evaluation studies and parent report of their preschool social functioning. Infants’ performance, emotional stability (fuss-out rate), and average habituation rate in moral evaluation tasks were collected. Preschool social functioning was measured through parent-report online scales. The results showed 1) that better performance on infant moral evaluation studies was associated with lower rates of parent report of preschool attention problems, social responsiveness problems, and callousness-unemotional traits, as well as higher rates of parent report of adaptive social skills, 2) that fuss-out rate across infant moral evaluation studies was positively associated with parent report of preschool anxiety, depression, and withdrawal, 3) that the relationships between the performance on infant moral evaluation studies and parent-report preschool functioning were stronger for males than for females, and that 4) these relationships were domain-specific. Together these findings provide preliminary evidence for longitudinal continuity in social functioning from infancy to preschool.
Mature moral judgments rely on the analysis of both the outcomes of others’ actions and the mental states that drive them. Past research has shown that when there is conflict between outcome and intention, young children rely on outcome information to evaluate others, while older children and adults privilege intention (Piaget, 1932/1965). This suggests that there is a shift from outcome-based to intention-based judgments occurring in development.However, the current study suggests that even 10-month-old infants evaluate moral agents on the basis of their underlying mental states. Infants were presented with puppet shows in which a protagonist was either intentionally or accidentally helped or hindered. Infants were then given a forced choice between the accidental and intentional puppets. Results indicate that infants’ preference for the accidental versus the intentional character differed by condition [χ²(1, N = 60)= 11.28, p