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By 3 years of age, children tattle about rule violations they observe, even as unaffected bystanders. It is argued that tattling is one way in which children enforce norms and that in the long term, it helps sustain co‐operation (e.g., Vaish, Missana, & Tomasello, 2011). However, an alternative explanation could be that children are worried that the victim might blame them and so feel the need to inform the victim about who caused the harm. The present study aimed to tease these possibilities apart. Children observed a puppet either causing harm to another puppet (e.g., destroying their artwork) or no harm (e.g., destroying a different object). Importantly, the situation was constructed such that children knew they could not be blamed for the transgressions. Nonetheless, 3‐year‐old children tattled on the transgressor more when the transgressor had caused harm than no harm. Thus, young children's tattling about third‐party moral transgressions seems to be aimed at enforcing norms. An additional, exploratory goal of this study was to examine the relation between children's temperament and norm enforcement. Temperamental shyness negatively correlated with children's protesting and tattling behavior, though more research is needed to better understand the role of temperament in early norm enforcement.
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Young children tattle to enforce moral norms
Meltem Yucel and Amrisha Vaish*
University of Virginia
*Corresponding author:
Dr. Amrisha Vaish
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
485 McCormick Road, Gilmer Hall, Room 102
Charlottesville, VA 22903 USA
By 3 years of age, children tattle about rule violations they observe, even as unaffected
bystanders. It is argued that tattling is one way in which children enforce norms and that
in the long term, it helps sustain cooperation (e.g., Vaish, Missana, & Tomasello, 2011).
However, an alternative explanation could be that children are worried that the victim
might blame them and so feel the need to inform the victim about who caused the harm.
The present study aimed to tease these possibilities apart. Children observed a puppet
either causing harm to another puppet (e.g., destroying their artwork) or no harm (e.g.,
destroying a different object). Importantly, the situation was constructed such that
children knew they could not be blamed for the transgressions. Nonetheless, 3-year-old
children tattled on the transgressor more when the transgressor had caused harm than no
harm. Thus, young children’s tattling about third-party moral transgressions seems to be
aimed at enforcing norms. An additional, exploratory goal of this study was to examine
the relation between children’s temperament and norm enforcement. Temperamental
shyness negatively correlated with children’s protesting and tattling behavior, though
more research is needed to better understand the role of temperament in early norm
Keywords: norm enforcement, moral norms, tattling, protest, individual differences
Young children tattle to enforce moral norms
Humans are a highly cooperative species. We cooperate not only with kin but
even with strangers and often even at a cost to ourselves (Sober & Wilson, 1998).
However, cooperation can result in a greater loss for cooperators (who invest resources
such as time, energy, or material goods) than for non-cooperators or free riders (who do
not invest any resources and yet benefit from the outcomes of the cooperation; Fehr &
Fischbacher, 2004). This presents a puzzle: If cooperators have more to lose than non-
cooperators, how can cooperation be maintained? One answer is norm enforcement,
whereby those who violate the norms of cooperation are held accountable in some way.
This encourages norm violators to cooperate more in subsequent interactions, thus
helping to maintain cooperation in the group (Boyd & Richerson, 2009; Nowak, 2006).
Norm enforcement can take several forms. One form is punishment, or imposing
costs on a transgressor. Children punish wrongdoers from an early age, and even do so in
third-party situations, that is, when they themselves are unaffected by the transgression.
For instance, 3- and 5-year-old children who observed a thief steal items from a victim
intervened to take the items away from the thief and make them inaccessible or return
them to the victim (Riedl, Jensen, Call, & Tomasello, 2015). Children often punish non-
cooperators even at a cost to themselves (McAuliffe, Jordan, & Warneken, 2015).
Young children also enforce norms by protesting against transgressors. For
instance, by 3 years of age, children protest when an individual breaks the rules
governing a game or destroys another individual’s artwork (e.g., Hardecker, Schmidt,
Roden, & Tomasello, 2016; Rakoczy, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2008; Vaish et al., 2011).
Norm enforcement in the forms of third-party punishment and protest thus emerge early
in development.
Interestingly, children also evince another enforcement-like behavior during norm
transgressions, namely, tattling. Tattling is the act of reporting to a second party about
norm violations committed by a third party (Ingram & Bering, 2010). In one of the few
studies on tattling behavior, researchers observed children’s responses to everyday norm
violations committed by their peers as they naturally occurred in the preschool (Ingram &
Bering, 2010; see also den Bak & Ross, 1996; Ross & den Bak-Lammers, 1998).
Children tattled frequently about violations against themselves but rarely about violations
against third parties. However, as the authors suggest, children may have refrained from
tattling in third-party contexts because they expected the victims–who were typically
present during the transgressions–to defend themselves.
Consequently, in two subsequent experimental studies on children’s tattling, the
victim was absent during the transgressions (Hardecker et al., 2016; Vaish et al., 2011).
In one study, for instance, 3-year-olds saw an actor puppet destroying either a victim
puppet’s picture (Harm condition) or a blank paper (Control condition) while the victim
was away. Upon the victim’s return, children tattled significantly more to her in the Harm
than Control condition (Vaish et al., 2011). Children’s tattling behavior in these third-
party contexts was interpreted as an additional way in which children enforce norms
(Ingram, 2014; Vaish et al., 2011). For instance, Ingram argued that over development,
children move away from protesting using physical aggression, which puts them at risk
for retaliation, to tattling to an authority figure, which is a more indirect and safer protest
method (Ingram, 2014).
Note, however, that in both Vaish et al. (2011) and Hardecker et al. (2016), the
victim’s absence meant that the victim did not know who caused the harm. Another
interpretation of children’s tattling could thus be that children were worried that the
victim would blame them and so felt the need to inform the victim about who caused the
harm. Indeed, this offers an alternative explanation for Ingram and Bering’s (2010)
finding that children rarely tattled about third-party transgressions: Since victims were
generally present during such transgressions, children might have inferred that the
victims would not blame them for the transgressions and so were not motivated to tattle.
Children’s tattling may thus be a self-serving act rather than an act of norm enforcement.
A few observational and interview studies also hint at this possibility. For instance,
children report their own transgressions far less than other children’s transgressions
(Dunn & Munn, 1985; Wilson, Smith, Ross, & Ross, 2004). Children thus seem keen to
present a blameless image of themselves, raising the possibility that their tattling is
motivated by self-interest. However, as these prior studies did not involve controlled
experiments, they do not permit strong conclusions about the motivations behind
children’s tattling. To tease apart self-serving versus cooperative motivations for tattling,
we asked: If children know they cannot be blamed for a transgression, will they still
tattle? If so, tattling would seem to serve to enforce norms. If not, then perhaps children
tattle to get themselves out of trouble rather than for cooperative reasons.
In the present study (whose basic method was adapted from Vaish et al., 2011), 3-
year-olds observed a transgressor puppet damaging an object (either a third party’s
belonging or a control object) and could enforce the norm during the property
transgression (by protesting) or later, upon the victim puppet’s return (by tattling).
Importantly, the object that the transgressor would damage was placed in a locked box
that the puppets had keys for but the child did not. During the procedure, the fact that the
child could not open the box was reiterated multiple times. This ensured that both the
child and other puppets clearly knew that the child did not have access to the objects and
could thus not be held responsible for their damage.
Note that during the transgression, the child was in the room with not only the
transgressor (as in previous work) but also an additional (neutral) puppet. We included
this additional puppet to ensure ambiguity about who the transgressor was. That is, if
only the child and transgressor were present during the transgression, and everyone knew
that the child could not have caused the damage, it would be clear that it must have been
the transgressor, thus obviating the need for the child to tattle to the victim. The presence
of an additional individual who had access to the objects meant that the victim could not
know who the transgressor was, thus increasing the need for children to tattle.
Our central question concerned the function of tattling. If tattling primarily serves
self-serving functions (to get the tattler out of trouble by making clear that s/he did not
cause the damage), then children should tattle similarly in Harm and Control conditions.
However, if tattling primarily serves to enforce norms (Ingram, 2014; Vaish et al., 2011),
then children should tattle more in the Harm than Control condition even though they
cannot be blamed for the transgression.
A second, exploratory goal was to examine individual variation in children’s
norm enforcement behavior. Although on average, children begin to engage in third-party
norm enforcement by 3 years, no prior work has accounted for individual variation in this
behavior. As a first step in this direction, we examined the associations between
children’s temperament and their tendency to protest and tattle.
We were particularly interested in two aspects of children’s temperament. The
first was shyness, i.e., slow or inhibited approach in situations involving novelty or
uncertainty. This was based on the fact that norm enforcement is considered a form of
prosocial behavior because it helps ensure future cooperation (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004;
Vaish, Herrmann, Markmann, & Tomasello, 2016), and children’s prosocial behavior
might be linked to children’s shyness. For instance, 3-year-olds’ prosocial behavior is
negatively correlated with shyness (Knafo & Israel, 2012; Stanhope, Bell, & Parker-
Cohen, 1987; but see Gross et al., 2015). Moreover, this negative correlation is especially
evident when children help others achieve social goals (e.g., helping someone get another
person’s attention) rather than instrumental goals (e.g., handing someone an out-of-reach
object; Beier, Terrizzi, Woodward, & Larson, 2016). As norm enforcement also entails
prosocial behavior in the social rather than instrumental domain, we explored whether
shyness is negatively related to norm enforcement.
Second, we asked whether children’s protesting and tattling are associated with
their impulsivity because, although these behaviors may look purposeful, they might
instead be impulsive responses that children ‘blurt out’ when they see a transgression.
Individual differences in young children’s norm enforcement may thus partially emerge
from their difficulty in inhibiting such prepotent responses. Indeed, temperamental
factors such as impulsivity are argued to interfere with children’s social information
processing, causing them to spontaneously respond to social situations instead of thinking
deeply about how to respond (Arsenio & Lemerise, 2004). Moreover, parent and teacher
ratings of children’s impulsivity correlate negatively with children’s socially appropriate
behavior (Spinrad et al., 2006). Accordingly, we reasoned that children’s norm
enforcement behaviors might not be purposeful actions designed to enforce norms but
rather impulsive acts, and thus that more impulsive children might show more of these
behaviors. We thus explored whether children’s norm enforcement is positively
associated with impulsivity.
Participants were 32 3-year-olds in either the Harm or Control condition (16 per
condition; 16 girls; age range: 36 months, 9 days to 47 months, 12 days; Mage = 40
months, 23 days; SD = 3 months, 9 days; Harm condition: 7 males; Mage = 40 months, 18
days; SD = 3 months, 0 days; Control condition: 9 males; Mage = 40 months, 27 days; SD
= 3 months, 18 days). Our sample size matched that of Vaish et al. (2011). Five
additional children were tested but excluded due to experimenter error (n = 1), fussiness
(n = 2), and themselves causing damage to the target object (n = 1; note that for one
additional child, one of the two trials was excluded because he damaged the target object
on that trial). Participants were recruited from a medium-sized university town in North
America. Of the families that provided information about race (n = 23) and education (n
= 24), 90.5% of the parents were White and 95.9% were at least college educated.
Materials and Setting
Three hand puppets (a fox, a bunny, and a dog), each controlled by a different
experimenter, were assigned one of the three roles: actor, victim, and moderator. The
experimenters always played the same roles but the puppets they controlled were
counterbalanced across children. (We used puppets based on previous studies showing
that children protest and tattle against puppets but may be more reluctant to speak up
against adults, especially in face-to-face interactions when the risk of negative
repercussions is higher; Heyman, Chiu Loke, & Lee, 2016; Kenward & Östh, 2012;
Schmidt, Rakoczy, & Tomasello, 2012; Vaish et al. 2011). Paper, crayons, and clay were
used for the activities. A plexiglass box (19x13x3 inches) with a lock, as well as three
keys that opened the lock and one key that did not open the box, were also used.
Children came to the reception area of the lab with their parents and played with
one experimenter (who would control the moderator puppet in the study). Once children
were comfortable, the experimenter introduced the moderator puppet. Children were then
escorted alone into the testing room, where the moderator puppet introduced children to
the two other animal puppets (who would be the actor and victim puppets). To minimize
the possibility of children perceiving the experimenters as separate individuals from the
puppets, children were not introduced to the experimenters playing the actor and victim
puppets, and these experimenters always stayed in their puppeteer roles throughout the
study, speaking and acting only through the puppets.
Of the 32 children tested, 3 refused to stay in the testing room alone and thus had
their parents accompany them. These parents sat behind the children and pretended to be
asleep throughout the procedure.
Warm-up. Puppets and the child first warmed up by playing with a ball. The
moderator then brought out an 8-piece wooden puzzle and said that they would take turns
putting in the puzzle pieces. On the first round (with the first four pieces), each puppet
‘mistakenly’ put a puzzle piece in the wrong place. If the child did not spontaneously
correct these mistakes within a few seconds, one of the other puppets prompted the child
by asking her if the piece was in the right place. This was done to ensure that children
knew that they could intervene and correct the puppets and felt comfortable doing so. The
puppets did not make mistakes on the second round.
Box demonstration phase. The moderator placed the (empty) plexiglass box on
the table. She then gave everyone a key for the box. In fact only the three puppets’ keys
opened the box; the child’s key did not. Each puppet and the child took turns trying out
their keys, at which point it became apparent that the child’s key did not open the box.
The moderator reiterated this to the child and noted that the child’s key opened a different
box outside the room. Then the moderator used her key to open the box and said, “So, I
have a key to open the box, [victim] has a key to open the box, and [actor] has a key to
open the box. But your key opens the other fun box outside.” (We gave children a key
because piloting revealed that not receiving any key at all made children somewhat upset
and feel left out of the activity. Receiving a key that opened a different box outside the
room ensured that children could not be blamed for the transgression but also that they
were not too disappointed about their key).
Testing phase. The testing phase consisted of two trials per child, one involving
drawing and one involving sculpting with clay (order of drawing and clay was
counterbalanced across children). The first trial began with the moderator distributing a
sheet of paper or a ball of clay to each puppet and the child. In each case, there was an
extra sheet of paper or ball of clay (control objects), which the moderator put in the
plexiglass box. Everyone now worked on drawing or making a clay sculpture. While
doing so, each puppet excitedly showed off her artwork, and the other puppets praised it.
The puppets also praised the child’s artwork.
After approximately 2 min, the victim puppet announced that she was done with
her artwork (a picture of a flower or a clay snail). She then said, “Oh! I just remembered
that I need to go outside. I'm going to put my flower/snail in the box and lock the box so
nothing happens to it while I’m gone. [Child], I know your key doesn’t open this box.
But [moderator] and [actor], your keys do. So if you’re opening the box, make sure
nothing happens to it. I don’t mind if something happens to this extra paper/clay. That’s
not mine. But I really don’t want anything to happen to my lovely flower/snail. I’m going
to put mine in the box now, and lock the box too.” After the victim left, the remaining
two puppets and the child continued their artwork.
Briefly thereafter, the moderator announced that she was tired and needed a nap,
and she (and the respective experimenter) turned away from the table and pretended to
sleep. The child was thus alone with the actor puppet (and the respective experimenter;
although this experimenter could be perceived as a witness to the actor’s actions, as noted
above, we minimized this possibility by making sure that the child never saw the
experimenter acting or talking separately from the puppet). Now, the actor proceeded to
either destroy the victim’s artwork (Harm condition) or the control object (Control
condition). In the Harm condition, the actor first announced in a neutral but firm manner,
“Well, I don’t like the flower/snail that [the victim] made.” She then opened the box with
her key, took the picture/sculpture out, and placed it between herself and the child
(approx. 5 s). She then said, “Yes, I don't like the flower/snail that [victim] made. I’m
going to tear/break it now.” After 5 s, she repeated her intentions and proceeded to tear or
break the artwork, put the pieces back into the box, and lock the box (approx. 10 s). In the
Control condition, the actor behaved identically except she said, “Well, I don’t like the
extra paper/clay,” and “Yes, I don’t like the extra paper/clay. I’m going to tear/break it
now”. The actor’s intentions were repeated and her actions were presented in this
stepwise manner to provide children with ample occasions to protest.
Once the actor finished the transgression, the victim returned. At this point, the
moderator puppet (and the respective experimenter) was still asleep. Before noticing the
damaged object, the victim announced that she would now get her picture/sculpture out
of the box and reiterated that she knew that the child’s key did not open the box. She then
neutrally said “Hmm” and sat down. Once she opened the box, she noticed the damaged
object and took the torn or broken pieces out. She said in a mildly sad tone, “That was my
flower/snail” (Harm) or “That was the extra paper/clay” (Control), and then put the
pieces on the floor.
Approximately 4 s later, the moderator woke up and announced that they would
now do the other activity (sculpting or drawing). The second trial began with the
moderator taking the remaining object out of the box and putting it away, and distributing
the new materials to the puppets and child. The second trial was identical to the first
except for the materials used.
While children participated in the study, parents completed the Very Short Form
of the Child Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ; Putnam & Rothbart, 2006).
Coding and Reliability
All children were videotaped during the study. A primary coder (blind to
hypotheses) carried out the coding for all children, and a reliability coder coded a
randomly selected 25% of videos (n = 8).
Comprehension. To assess whether children understood that their key did not
open the plexiglass box, we coded children’s explicit statements (e.g., “My key opens the
other box” or “Oh I see the problem, my key is not the right shape” or “I just want to get
outside and lock this into that [other] box”) as well as indications of implicit
understanding (e.g., nodding or saying “Yes” when the moderator informed or reminded
them) for the entire study duration. Reliability on this measure was perfect (
= 1).
Puzzle. When the puppets made mistakes during the puzzle, we coded whether
children intervened spontaneously, after being prompted, or not at all. Reliability was
excellent (
= .88).
Protest. The coding scheme for protest was based on prior work (e.g., Rakoczy et
al., 2008; Vaish et al., 2011). Specifically, in the period between the moderator going to
sleep and the victim returning to the room (approx. 90 s), children’s verbalizations were
given the following scores: ‘normative protest’ (3), ‘imperative protest’ (2), ‘hints of
protest’ (1), and ‘no protest’ (0). ‘Normative protest’ involved intervening in a normative
way, using normative vocabulary, references to the rule (e.g., “No, you cannot do that”),
or references to the victim’s emotional state (e.g., “Now when doggy comes back, she
will be so sad”). ‘Imperative protest’ involved expressing an imperative, such as a
command to stop the action, without use of normative elements (e.g., “No! Don’t tear
it!”), or expressing simple disagreement with the actor’s action (e.g., “No!”). ‘Hints of
protest’ were protests that could not clearly be assigned to the other two categories,
including using a protesting tone of voice in exclamations (“Hey!”), questions (“Why are
you doing that?”), or statements (“But I like the dog’s flower”). A score of 0 (‘No
protest’) was assigned if the child exhibited no protest behaviors. Reliability on protest as
a binary (yes/no) measure and on highest protest scores was good (
= .75 and
= .78,
Tattling. Tattling was coded between the time the victim returned to the room
and the moderator woke up (approx. 1 min). We developed a new coding scheme to
assess level of children’s tattling (see Table 1). Children received the highest code of
‘clear tattling’ if they pointed to and/or named the actor. ‘Hints of tattling’ was assigned
when children simply notified the victim about what happened to the object without
naming anyone. Reliability on tattling as a binary measure and on highest tattling scores
was perfect (
= 1 for both).
Selfish Tattling. Finally, we coded for children’s ‘selfish tattling,’ i.e., tattling
solely to avoid being blamed (e.g., “It wasn’t me” or “I didn’t do it”). However, no child
showed this behavior.
Preliminary analyses revealed no effects of gender (Fisher’s exact tests; for
protest, p = .135; for tattling, p = .252). There were also no differences between the first
and the second trial for any measure, all ps > .6. During the warm-up phase, all children
intervened at least once when the puppets put a puzzle piece in the wrong place (30
intervened spontaneously and 2 after being prompted). Thus, all children felt comfortable
correcting the puppets. Moreover, nearly all children (27 of 32) spontaneously showed
comprehension of the fact that their key did not open the box. Specifically, 14 children
made explicit statements (12 repeated the information after hearing the puppets talk about
it during the box demonstration phase, and 2 made explicit statements before the victim
left and upon the victim’s return) and another 13 showed implicit understanding. Of the 5
children who did not show comprehension, 4 were in the Control condition. Analyses
conducted with and without these 5 children did not produce different results, with only
one exception (described below). Thus, these 5 children were retained for all analyses.
All reported p-values are two-tailed.
We hypothesized that children would protest more in the Harm than Control
condition. However, a chi-square test revealed that only a non-significant majority of
children protested on at least one trial in the Harm (n = 7, or 44%) than the Control
condition (n = 4, or 25%), X2(1, N = 32) = 1.25, p = .264.
Our primary hypothesis was that children would tattle more in the Harm than
Control condition despite knowing that they would not be blamed for damaging the
victim’s object in the Harm condition. Using a chi-square test, tattling was first analyzed
as a binary variable (tattling/no tattling). As predicted, a significantly greater number of
children tattled on at least one trial in the Harm (9 of 16, or 56%) than Control condition
(1 of 16, or 6%), X2(1, N = 32) = 9.31, p = .002, ϕCramer = .539 (Figure 1).
Additionally, we compared children’s highest tattling scores across conditions
with a Mann-Whitney U test. As predicted, the test revealed condition differences, Mann-
Whitney U = 65, NHarm = NControl = 16, p = .003, indicating that children were more likely
to engage in clear tattling in the Harm than Control condition (Figure 1). To assess
whether children tended to either engage in both types of norm enforcement behaviors
(protesting and tattling) or in neither, we conducted a phi-correlation on the binary
tattling and protest measures. This did not reveal a significant effect (ϕ = .22, p = .21),
suggesting that children tended to engage in one or the other behavior but not both (see
Table 2).
Finally, to explore the associations between norm enforcement behavior and
temperament, we focused on two subscales of the CBQ Surgency/Extraversion factor:
shyness and impulsivity. Total scores for shyness and impulsivity were calculated by
summing the scores from the three 7-point Likert scale questions for shyness and
impulsivity, respectively. Children’s total shyness and impulsivity scores showed good
variability (shyness range = 3-21 points, M = 11.81, SD = 4.14; impulsivity range = 5-18
points, M = 10.81, SD = 2.39). Non-parametric tests of correlation revealed that
children’s shyness correlated negatively with their binary protest and binary tattling
behavior (Kendall’s tau = -.33, p = .030; Kendall’s tau = -.38, p = .014, respectively),
whereas their impulsivity did not correlate with either (both ps > .1). Note that when we
excluded the 5 children who did not spontaneously show comprehension about their key,
the negative correlation between protest and shyness was no longer significant, Kendall’s
tau = -.24, p = .150, but the correlation between tattling and shyness remained significant,
Kendall’s tau = -.36, p = .030.
The enforcement of norms is critical for maintaining and promoting cooperation
(Boyd & Richerson, 2009; Nowak, 2006). Prior work showed that by age 3, children
often tattle about third-party moral transgressions. This behavior was interpreted as a way
for children to enforce moral norms (Ingram & Bering, 2010; Vaish et al., 2011).
However, because children in prior studies faced the possibility of being blamed for the
transgression, their tattling behavior might have been motivated by a more selfish desire
to get themselves out of trouble (see also Dunn & Munn, 1985; Wilson et al., 2004).
The current study teased apart whether 3-year-olds tattle to avoid being blamed or
to enforce norms. We devised a situation in which children had no access to the objects
that would be damaged. Children thus knew they could not be blamed for any damage
caused to those objects. Nonetheless, children tattled more when the transgressor had
caused harm than no harm. Moreover, none of the children engaged in ‘selfish tattlingto
clear themselves of any potential blame. Rather, children’s tattling was entirely focused
on informing the victim about the transgression and/or the transgressor. Our results
indicate that children’s tattling serves the cooperative function of enforcing norms rather
than the more selfish function of getting themselves out of trouble.
An alternative but related possibility is that children did not tattle to enforce
norms on the transgressor but to protect the reputation of the moderator puppet, who had
access to the objects and who was sleeping when the victim returned to the room and thus
could not deflect blame from herself. Although we saw no evidence of tattling to defend
the moderator, our procedure was not designed to (and thus cannot conclusively) rule out
this possibility. We note, though, that even if children did tattle to protect the moderator,
the motivation underlying their tattling would still be cooperative, both immediately
(ensuring the wrong person is not sanctioned) and in the long run (ensuring the
transgressor is sanctioned and is thus less likely to transgress again).
Another possibility is that children’s tattling was motivated by concern for the
victim rather than (or in addition to) a desire to enforce norms. However, the content of
the tattling suggests that children were doing something more than expressing concern for
the victim. Specifically, our coding of tattling focused on instances in which children
pointed out who caused the damage. If children were only expressing concern for the
victim, they need not have mentioned the transgressor at all. Rather, they could have
shown their concern by comforting, helping, or sharing with the victim (e.g., Svetlova,
Nichols, & Brownell, 2010; Vaish, Carpenter, & Tomasello, 2009), which children did
not generally do (except one child who offered to draw a picture for the victim). This
suggests that children’s tattling was at least partially a form of norm enforcement.
An important question is whether children truly understood that their key did not
open the box containing the objects and that everyone else knew this. We think it likely
that they did, for a few reasons. First, the fact that children’s keys did not open the box
containing the objects was clearly stated and reiterated by the puppets a total of six times
during the procedure. Furthermore, as our Comprehension results indicate, nearly all
children showed either explicit or implicit understanding that their key did not open the
box. (However, future work could include a comprehension question about the box and
keys in order to have all children explicitly state their understanding before the
transgression occurs, and include a memory check later in the procedure – perhaps after
the first trial – to ensure that children retain the information.)
Note also that one of the reminders about the child’s lack of access to the box
(and thus lack of culpability) was provided just before children could tattle. Specifically,
immediately after the victim returned to the room and before she noticed the damaged
object, she said to children that she knew that their key did not open the box. Thus, even
if children had forgotten this fact (or believed that others might have forgotten it), they
were reminded of it before they tattled. If children’s tattling served primarily to avoid
blame, this reminder should have eased their concerns and allowed them to not tattle.
These aspects of our procedure and children’s spontaneous responses strongly indicate
that children did indeed understand that they could not be blamed for the transgression.
The fact that children nonetheless tattled when a moral norm had been broken supports
our proposal that tattling is a way for children to enforce such norms (Ingram & Bering,
2010; Vaish et al., 2011).
As a secondary measure, we examined children’s protest behavior. In contrast to
prior work, (Schmidt et al., 2012; Vaish et al., 2011), children in our study did not protest
more in the Harm than Control condition. In particular, whereas the number who
protested was identical in our and in Vaish et al.’s Control condition (4 of 16), the
number who protested in our Harm condition (7 of 16) was substantially lower than in the
Harm condition in Vaish et al. (12 of 16) or Schmidt et al. (11 of 16).
There are at least two possible reasons for this disparity. First, children in prior
studies may have protested in higher numbers because they thought they could be blamed
for the transgressions (Hardecker et al., 2016; Vaish et al., 2011). They may have been
highly motivated to protest in order to try and prevent the transgressions from occurring,
even if that meant possibly facing retaliation from the transgressor. On the other hand,
because children in our study knew they could not be blamed, they may have found
tattling to be a safer, more peaceful way to enforce the norm. Indeed, because direct
intervention can prove dangerous, over development, children may start utilizing more
indirect ways to intervene (Ingram, 2014). One such indirect way is tattling, which leaves
the riskier aspects of norm enforcement (e.g., punishing the transgressor) to others
(Hawley & Geldhof, 2012). Thus, under some circumstances, indirect forms of norm
enforcement such as tattling may be more appealing for young children than direct
intervention. Relatedly, the lack of correlation in our study between protesting and
tattling hints that both behaviors serve similar functions and that children may rely on one
or the other depending on context (though see Heyman et al., 2016).
A second possible reason for the disparity in protest results is the fact that unlike
in prior studies, in which children were alone with the transgressor during the
transgression (Hardecker et al., 2016; Vaish et al., 2011), in our study, a third individual
(the moderator) was also present in the room. As everyone knew that the child’s key did
not open the box, we reasoned that the moderator puppet’s presence during the
transgression would create ambiguity for the victim about who caused the damage (as
both the actor and the moderator had keys to the box), which would give children reason
to tattle in order to inform the victim about the transgressor. Although the moderator (and
the respective experimenter) pretended to be asleep, children may nonetheless have felt a
diffusion of responsibility, perhaps expecting the moderator to wake up and intervene.
This might be especially true if, despite our effort to minimize the sense that the
moderator was an authority figure, children nonetheless perceived the moderator in this
way (as she was responsible for managing the entire procedure, handling all materials,
and so on). Children may thus have seen the moderator as someone who could and should
intervene, which may have reduced their own protest. This possibility can be further
examined by systematically varying whether or not a third individual is present in the
room during the transgressions, and whether or not that individual is an authority figure.
An exploratory goal of our study was to examine individual variation in norm
enforcement behavior by investigating the relations between parental reports of children’s
temperamental shyness and impulsivity and their tendency to enforce norms by protesting
and tattling. We found that shyness was negatively correlated with both protesting and
tattling whereas impulsivity did not correlate with either.
The negative correlation between temperamental shyness and the tendency to
enforce norms makes sense, for two reasons. First, protesting and tattling about moral
transgressions, particularly in an unfamiliar situation with unfamiliar individuals, requires
children to not be overly timid in novel or uncertain situations (Beier et al., 2016). It thus
follows that children who are less temperamentally shy would show greater norm
enforcement behaviors. Second, norm enforcement is considered a form of prosocial
behavior (Vaish et al., 2016) and some prior work indicates that children’s prosocial
behavior correlates negatively with temperamental shyness, particularly in social helping
situations (Beier et al., 2016; Knafo & Israel, 2012; though see Gross et al., 2015). As
such, our finding is consistent with the broader literature on the relation between
temperamental shyness and prosocial behavior.
Interestingly, it could be argued that the immediate goal (or sub-goal) of norm
enforcement is a punitive one (e.g., to punish antisocial partners), and thus that the
negative correlation between shyness and norm enforcement in fact reflects a negative
association between shyness and antisocial or aggressive behavior. It will be fascinating
to unpack this possibility in future work and to compare the role of shyness (and other
temperamental factors) in punitive versus prosocial behaviors.
This raises the broader question of whether norm enforcement is in fact a
prosocial behavior, i.e., a behavior that benefits others. On their surface, norm
enforcement behaviors such as punishment do not appear to be prosocial, as they involve
causing some negative consequence for the transgressor. However, a behavior can
arguably be considered prosocial if it ultimately provides a benefit, even if it does not do
so immediately. Consider the case of “paternalistic” helping: Young children often refuse
to give a recipient a desired object if that object is broken, instead giving an object that
the recipient has not requested but that will ultimately be more useful for them (Martin &
Olson, 2013). Similarly, although the immediate outcome of norm enforcement might be
a negative one (e.g., making the transgressor sad), if the transgressor ultimately
cooperates more, then norm enforcement can still be considered prosocial.
It could also be argued that the outcomes of norm enforcement are not always
prosocial, as in the case of antisocial punishment (i.e., punishing individuals for behaving
prosocially; Herrmann, Thöni, & Gächter, 2008). Indeed, norm enforcement can stabilize
not only prosocial norms but any kind of norms in large groups (Boyd & Richerson,
1992). When strong social norms of cooperation exist, however, norm enforcement is
effective in promoting them (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004; Herrmann et al., 2008). Thus,
although norm enforcement might not account for the origins of cooperation, it helps
explain how cooperation is sustained and spread. There is thus reason to consider norm
enforcement a prosocial act. Still, future work should examine the fascinating question of
whether norm enforcers are primarily driven by prosocial, antisocial, or perhaps purely
normative motivations.
We found no significant correlation between norm enforcement and impulsivity.
This hints that children do not protest and tattle about transgressions because they cannot
inhibit such responses, but rather do so purposefully, perhaps with the intention of
enforcing norms. However, we caution that this is the first examination of links between
temperament and norm enforcement behavior and is based on a relatively small sample
size; it needs to be replicated with a larger sample, and perhaps extended by including
other dimensions of temperament, before strong conclusions can be drawn. Note also that
we assessed children’s temperament using a parental questionnaire (CBQ; Putnam &
Rothbart, 2006). Although this instrument is validated and widely used, it does not
directly assess children’s temperament and might underestimate the links between
temperament and norm enforcement. Future research could employ more direct tests of
Interestingly, two children intentionally destroyed the victim’s artwork (the trials
on which they did so were excluded from analyses). Whereas one did so only after the
transgressor announced her intention to destroy it, the other began to do so even before
the transgressor announced her intention. This suggests that in addition to enforcing
norms, children are occasionally also motivated to break norms. It will be fascinating to
explore such rule-breaking behavior as a source of individual variation in future work.
Future research should also consider additional sources of individual variation.
One source is likely parenting style. Prior work shows that authoritative parenting
supports prosocial behavior whereas authoritarian parenting undermines it (e.g.,
Eisenberg, Fabes, & Murphy, 1996; Hastings, Rubin, & DeRose, 2005). This might be
especially relevant to norm enforcement given that authoritative parents establish clear
expectations and guidelines for behavior and provide explanations for those expectations,
which might increase the likelihood that their children learn to respect norms and not
only follow them but also enforce them. On the other hand, authoritarian parents provide
fewer explanations for rules and use strict and punitive discipline; this might not
encourage as much intrinsic respect for norms (Hoffman & Saltzstein, 1967; see also
Smetana, 1997). Authoritative parenting might thus result in greater norm enforcement
among children than authoritarian parenting. In line with this prediction and with our
finding that shyness correlates negatively with norm enforcement, authoritative parents
tend to have more socially competent children whereas authoritarian parents tend to have
shier and more withdrawn children (Barber, Olsen, & Shagle, 1994; Mills & Rubin,
Additionally, there is cross-cultural variation in both adults’ and children’s
punishment of transgressors that depends on the norms and institutions of their groups
(e.g., Henrich et al., 2006), and differences in parents’ cultural values are associated with
differences in children’s protest against norm violations (Gampe & Daum, 2018). It is
thus imperative to examine cultural and parental influences on children’s norm
Children’s norm enforcement might also vary depending on their experience in
‘norm-heavy’ settings such as daycare or preschools. Finally, children’s receptive and
expressive language abilities could limit children’s understanding of norms and their
reactions to norm violations. In order to paint a richer and more complete picture of early
norm enforcement, future work should focus not only on the normative pattern of
development but also on the many fascinating sources of individual variation.
We set out to understand the motivations underlying children's tattling behavior
and its temperamental correlates. Our findings indicate that children tattle about third
party moral transgressions even when they cannot be held responsible for those
transgressions, suggesting that children's tattling serves cooperative rather than self
serving functions. Moreover, temperamental shyness seems to underlie some of the
individual variation in children's tendency to intervene in norm transgressions, although
more research is needed to more thoroughly tease apart the role of temperamental factors
and other sources of individual variation. This provides important insights into the
functions of children's tattling behavior, and highlights the impressive ways in which
children enforce moral norms and thus help maintain cooperation.
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Table 1
Coding Scheme for Tattling
Tattling Score
Clear tattling
Child tells victim that the actor destroyed the target
object (“The fox tore it up” or “She tore up your
beautiful flower!”). Child may explicitly name and/or
point to the actor
Hints of tattling
Child informs the victim about the damaged object
without indicating who caused the damage (“It’s
broken” or “Look what happened!”)
No tattling
Child does not tattle
Table 2
Distribution of Children’s Protest and Tattling Responses in each Condition
Did not protest
Did not protest
Did not tattle
Figure 1. Proportion of children in each condition who showed each form of tattling as
their highest form of tattling. * p < .005.
... For example, they show explicit disapproval and actively intervene against transgressions such as violations of property rights [8][9][10]12,13 , distribution inequity 14,15 and physical harm 3 . Also, they often report (tattle) the perceived transgression to an authority on behalf of a third party 12,16,17 . Furthermore, intervention behaviours demonstrated by 3-6 years old children is nuanced, showing a higher probability of intervention into moral transgressions rather than violations of conventional norms and rules of games 16 . ...
... For example, they shut down a slide to prevent an antisocial child from playing on it, even when knowing they sacrifice their own opportunity to play on it 10 . Also, no significant correlation has been found between 3-year-olds' third-party intervention and dispositional impulsivity 17 , suggesting that children's intervention behaviours are not simply an impulsive 'knee-jerk' reaction. Moreover, many researchers point out that, when intervening in transgressions, children often use normative terms (e.g. ...
Full-text available
One means by which humans maintain social cooperation is through intervention in third-party transgressions, a behaviour observable from the early years of development. While it has been argued that pre-school age children’s intervention behaviour is driven by normative understandings, there is scepticism regarding this claim. There is also little consensus regarding the underlying mechanisms and motives that initially drive intervention behaviours in pre-school children. To elucidate the neural computations of moral norm violation associated with young children’s intervention into third-party transgression, forty-seven preschoolers (average age 53.92 months) participated in a study comprising of electroencephalographic (EEG) measurements, a live interaction experiment, and a parent survey about moral values. This study provides data indicating that early implicit evaluations, rather than late deliberative processes, are implicated in a child’s spontaneous intervention into third-party harm. Moreover, our findings suggest that parents’ values about justice influence their children’s early neural responses to third-party harm and their overt costly intervention behaviour.
... Recent years have seen a surge in developmental research investigating young children's emerging appreciation of social norms (Blake, 2018;Carpendale & Hammond, 2016;Rhodes & Wellman, 2017). One key finding is that already young children, partly even before explicitly reasoning about norms, spontaneously protest against third-party norm transgressions and thus show an earlier appreciation as well as enforcement of norms than previously thought (e.g., Essler et al., 2023;Gampe & Daum, 2018;Hardecker et al., 2016;Schmidt et al., 2019;Yucel & Vaish, 2018). But how does normative protest behavior first appear in ontogeny? ...
Full-text available
Young children’s emerging normative views are a central topic in developmental science. However, there is little evidence on the longitudinal precursors of young children’s norm enforcement behavior. The present study combined longitudinal and experimental analyses to address this research gap. At 2.5 years, we assessed children’s protest behavior against moral and conventional violations. We assessed children’s compliance and normative language understanding at 1.5 and 2 years as longitudinal predictors of norm enforcement behavior. Most importantly, children’s compliance and normative language understanding longitudinally predicted their conventional protest, while arousal to moral transgressions concurrently related to their moral protest. Moreover, children protested more against conventional than against moral transgressions while evaluating both types of transgressions negatively. Overall, these results support a social-cognitive approach to early moral development.
... For instance, children expect that violation of moral norms, compared with conventional norms, would be more severe and have more serious consequences (e.g., Nucci & Nucci, 1982;Turiel, 1983). When they witness individuals violating moral norms, children exhibit heightened emotional and physiological arousal (Hardecker et al., 2016;Yucel et al., 2020), they object to and tattle on the rule-breakers (e.g., Hardecker et al., 2016;Ingram & Bering, 2010;Vaish et al., 2011;Yucel & Vaish, 2018), and they even lie to others to keep them away from breaking moral norms such as stealing someone's possessions (e.g., Harvey et al., 2018). Crucially, children have different expectations regarding to whom these different kinds of norms apply: They expect conventional norms to be applicable to only members of their community (Kalish, 2012;Liberman et al., 2018;Schmidt et al., 2012) whereas moral norms to be applicable to everyone (e.g., Josephs & Rakoczy, 2016;Liberman et al., 2018;Mammen et al., 2018). ...
Several studies have investigated factors guiding children's decisions when learning from others, although less is known about factors that govern children's decisions when they transfer knowledge to others. Here we asked whether children would privilege ingroup members when teaching and, if so, whether this tendency would persist when transferring different kinds of information (conventional norms vs. moral norms). In Experiment 1 (N = 24), we first replicated ingroup preference based on minimal group membership with 5- and 6-year-old Turkish children. In Experiment 2 (N = 64), we examined whether children would consider group membership and the type of knowledge to be transferred in their teaching intentions. Children were introduced to two ignorant targets differing in their group membership and were asked to choose one or both of these targets to teach conventional or moral norms. Children were more likely to choose ingroup members for teaching conventional norms and both members when teaching moral norms. Further, this trend was particularly evident among girls. These results suggest that children make flexible teaching decisions considering the social attributes of the learners and raise interesting questions regarding the mechanisms underlying children's information transfer. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... Children have been shown to spontaneously intervene in response to third-party violations of a range of different moral (e.g. Heyman et al., 2016;Vaish et al., 2011;Yucel & Vaish, 2018) and conventional norms (e.g. Rakoczy, 2008;Rakoczy et al., 2008;Wyman et al., 2009). ...
Full-text available
By observing others, children can learn about different types of norms, including moral norms rooted in concerns for welfare and rights, and social conventions based on directives from authority figures or social consensus. Two studies examined how preschoolers and adults constructed and applied knowledge about novel moral and conventional norms from their direct social experiences. Participants watched a video of a novel prohibited action that caused pain to a victim (moral conditions) or a sound from a box (conventional conditions), and then saw a transgressor puppet, who had either watched the video alongside the participant or not, engage in the prohibited action. Preschoolers and adults rapidly constructed distinct moral and conventional evaluations about the novel actions. These distinctions were evident across several response modalities that have often been studied separately, including judgments, reasoning, and actions. However, children did not reliably track the puppet’s knowledge of the novel norms. These studies provide experimental support for the idea that children and adults construct distinct moral and conventional norms from social experiences, which in turn guide judgments, reasoning, and behavior.
Third-party punishment refers to an individual’s disposition to punish wrongdoers who have not directly harmed them. It appears to be unique to humans and culturally universal. Although this behavioral tendency in adults has been well documented, its ontogeny remains unresolved and controversial. In this review, I present an overview of the developmental literature on third-party intervention or punishment to provide insights into its early ontogeny. First, I review studies that show preschoolers and older children to be agents who punish wrongdoers even when it is costly to do so. I then consider studies of young children as assessors who expect wrongdoers to be punished and positively evaluate those who do so. Next, I present recent studies of preverbal infants to demonstrate two important aspects of third-party punishment: punishment assessors and punitive agents. Finally, I discuss open issues and future directions for understanding third-party punishment in early ontogeny.
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Die Veröffentlichung präsentiert Ergebnisse von Einzelinterviews mit je 100 deutschen und australischen Kindern im Alter von 5 bis 12 Jahren zu den Themen Geheimnis, Geheimnisverrat, Petzen und Strafe. Mit Kindern reden, Kindern zuhören, die Weltsicht von Kindern erschließen, Inhalte und Strukturen kindlichen Denkens zu erforschen - dies ist der Leitgedanke des Projekts. Es steht in der Tradition von Piaget und den von ihm beeinflussten Psychologen Kohlberg und Selman, die mit ihren Studien zum moralischen Bewusstsein bzw. zur sozialen Perspektivenübernahme wichtige Anstöße zur Erforschung der Entwicklung moralischer und sozialkognitiver Konzepte geliefert haben. Die hier präsentierte Veröffentlichung enthält eine Aktualisierung und substantielle Erweiterung des Artikels zum Geheimnis von Valtin, Flitner & Watson (1998), einen Originalbeitrag über Petzen sowie eine um Daten der australischen Stichprobe erweiterte und aktualisierte Fassung eines Beitrags zu Strafe von Valtin & Walper (1991). Obwohl die Daten aus einer weit zurückliegenden Studie stammen, sind sie - blickt man auf den Stand der Forschung - nach wie vor höchst aktuell, zumal es nur wenige qualitative Interviewstudien mit Kindern gibt. Im Vergleich mit nachfolgenden Forschungsarbeiten ist das Design unserer Studie umfassender angelegt, und zwar in Bezug auf die untersuchte Altersspanne (Fünf- bis Zwölfjährige), die Inhalte des Geheimnisses bzw. Petzens sowie die Adressaten der Mitteilung (Mutter, Freund). Die Ergebnisse verweisen nicht nur auf unterschiedliche Strukturen im begrifflichen Verständnis von Geheimnis, Petzen und Strafe, sondern sind auch sozialisationstheoretisch von Interesse und zeigen die Bedeutung von Freunden bei der notwendigen Verselbständigung der Kinder gegenüber den Eltern und belegen die sozialisierende Funktion von Freundschaften.
Responding to wrongdoing is a core feature of our social lives. Indeed, a central assumption of modern institutional justice systems is that transgressors should be punished. In this Review, we synthesize the developmental literature on third-party intervention to provide insight into the types of responses to transgressions that are privileged early in ontogeny. In particular, we focus on young children as both assessors and agents of third-party punishment. With respect to assessment, children have rich expectations about the pursuit of punishment and evaluate those who punish transgressors positively. With respect to agency, children punish wrongdoing even when doing so is costly, and their motives to do so are tethered to a variety of concerns (such as retribution and restoration). Our Review suggests that key concepts in modern institutional justice systems are apparent in early child development, and that third-party punishment is a signature of children’s sophisticated toolkit for regulating social relationships and behaviour. An assumption of modern institutional justice systems is that transgressors should be punished. In this Review, Marshall and McAuliffe synthesize research on whether children expect bystanders to punish others, favour those who do so, and even pursue certain forms of intervention, such as punishment, in response to wrongdoing.
By observing others, children can learn about different types of norms, including moral norms rooted in concerns for welfare and rights, and social conventions based on directives from authority figures or social consensus. Two experiments examined how preschoolers and adults constructed and applied knowledge about novel moral and conventional norms from their direct social experiences. Participants watched a video of a novel prohibited action that caused pain to a victim (moral conditions) or a sound from a box (conventional conditions). Next, they saw a transgressor puppet, who had either watched the video alongside participants or not, engage in the prohibited action. Preschoolers and adults rapidly constructed distinct moral and conventional evaluations about the novel actions. These distinctions were evident across several response modalities that have often been studied separately, including judgments, reasoning, and actions. However, children did not reliably track the puppet’s knowledge of the novel norms. These studies provide experimental support for the idea that children and adults construct distinct moral and conventional norms from social experiences, which in turn guide judgments, reasoning, and behavior.
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When we commit transgressions, we need to be forgiven to restore our friendships and social standing. Two main ways we can elicit forgiveness is through asking for forgiveness after committing a transgression (i.e., retrospective elicitors) or before committing a transgression (i.e., prospective elicitors). Research on retrospective elicitors with adults and children indicates that apologizing or showing remorse elicits forgiveness from both victims and bystanders, and sheds light on the nuances of such elicitors and their functions. Far less is known about how adults and children respond to prospective elicitors of forgiveness, such as disclaimers (statements that prepare the listener for a transgression or a failure of character or performance, e.g., “I don't mean to be rude but…”), and how the functions and effectiveness of prospective elicitors compare to those of retrospective elicitors. Furthermore, much less is known about the additive effects of using both retrospective and prospective elicitors of forgiveness. A better understanding of how and when forgiveness is elicited in childhood and through adulthood promises to shed light on human sociality and cooperativeness. This article is categorized under: Cognitive Biology > Social Development Psychology > Emotion and Motivation Cognitive Biology > Cognitive Development
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This study examined social influences on 3-year-old children’s decisions to help an experimenter gain another person’s attention (N = 32). Children were slower to help the experimenter when the target had previously expressed disinterest in attending to her. Shy children were less likely to support the experimenter’s attempts to communicate with the target; however, this association was not influenced by children’s knowledge of the target’s disinterest and there was no relation between shyness and children’s support for a separate physical goal. Therefore, young children’s decisions to act helpfully incorporate consideration for others beyond a focal person with an unmet need, and they are further constrained by children’s own comfort with the actions required to help.
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We examined how individual differences in social understanding contribute to variability in early-appearing prosocial behavior. Moreover, potential sources of variability in social understanding were explored and examined as additional possible predictors of prosocial behavior. Using a multi-method approach with both observed and parent-report measures, 325 children aged 18 to 30 months were administered measures of social understanding (e.g. use of emotion words; self-understanding), prosocial behavior (in separate tasks measuring instrumental helping, empathic helping, and sharing, as well as parent-reported prosociality at home), temperament (fearfulness, shyness, and social fear), and parental socialization of prosocial behavior in the family. Individual differences in social understanding predicted variability in empathic helping and parent-reported prosociality, but not instrumental helping or sharing. Parental socialization of prosocial behavior was positively associated with toddlers’ social understanding, prosocial behavior at home, and instrumental helping in the lab, and negatively associated with sharing (possibly reflecting parents’ increased efforts to encourage children who were less likely to share). Further, socialization moderated the association between social understanding and prosocial behavior, such that social understanding was less predictive of prosocial behavior among children whose parents took a more active role in socializing their prosociality. None of the dimensions of temperament was associated with either social understanding or prosocial behavior. Parental socialization of prosocial behavior is thus an important source of variability in children’s early prosociality, acting in concert with early differences in social understanding, with different patterns of influence for different subtypes of prosocial behavior.
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Adult humans are characterized by low rates of intra-group physical aggression. Since children tend to be more physically aggressive, an evolutionary developmental account shows promise for explaining how physical aggression is suppressed in adults. I argue that this is achieved partly through extended dominance hierarchies, based on indirect reciprocity and linguistic transmission of reputational information, mediated by indirectly aggressive competition. Reviewing the literature on indirect and related forms of aggression provides three pieces of evidence for the claim that evolutionarily old impulses towards physical aggression are socialized into indirect aggression in humans: (i) physical aggression falls in early childhood over the same age range at which indirect aggression increases; (ii) the same individuals engage in both direct and indirect aggression; and (iii) socially dominant individuals practice indirect aggression more frequently. Consideration of the developmental course of indirect aggression is complemented by analysis of similar developments in verbal behaviors that are not always thought of as aggressive, namely tattling and gossip. An important puzzle concerns why indirect aggression becomes more covert, and tattling more derogated, in preadolescence and adolescence. This may be due to the development of new strategies aimed at renegotiating social identity and friendship alliances in the peer group.
Children from the age of 3 years understand social norms as such and enforce these norms in interactions with others. Differences in parental and institutional education across cultures make it likely that children receive divergent information about how to act in cases of norm violations. In the current study, we investigated whether cultural values are associated with the ways in which children react to norm violations. We tested 80 bicultural 3-year-olds with a norm enforcement paradigm and analyzed their reactions to norm violations. The reactions were correlated to the children’s parental cultural values using the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) scales, and these results show that parental culture was associated with children’s reactions to norm violations. The three strongest correlations were found for institutional collectivism, performance orientation, and assertiveness.
From an early age, children can talk meaningfully about differences between moral and conventional norms. But does their understanding of these differences manifest itself in their actual behav-ioral and emotional reactions to norm violations? And do children discriminate between norm violations that affect either themselves or a third party? Two studies (N = 224) were conducted in which children observed conventional game rule violations and moral transgressions that either disadvantaged themselves directly or disadvantaged an absent third party. Results revealed that 3-and 5-year-olds evaluated both conventional and moral transgressions as normative breaches and protested against them. However, 5-year-olds also clearly discriminated these types of transgressions along further dimensions in that (a) they tattled largely on the moral violation and less on the conventional violation and (b) they showed stronger emotional reactions to moral violations compared to conventional violations. The 3-year-olds' responses to moral and conventional transgressions, however, were less discriminatory, and these younger children responded rather similarly to both kinds of violations. Importantly, most children intervened both as victims of the transgression and as unaffected third parties alike, providing strong evidence for their agent-neutral understanding of social norms.
An important, and perhaps uniquely human, mechanism for maintaining cooperation against free riders is third-party punishment [1, 2]. Our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, will not punish third parties even though they will do so when personally affected [3]. Until recently, little attention has been paid to how punishment and a sense of justice develop in children. Children respond to norm violations [4]. They are more likely to share with a puppet that helped another individual as opposed to one who behaved harmfully, and they show a preference for seeing a harmful doll rather than a victim punished [5]. By 6 years of age, children will pay a cost to punish fictional and real peers [6-8], and the threat of punishment will lead preschoolers to behave more generously [9]. However, little is known about what motivates a sense of justice in children. We gave 3- and 5-year-old children-the youngest ages yet tested-the opportunity to remove items and prevent a puppet from gaining a reward for second- and third-party violations (experiment 1), and we gave 3-year-olds the opportunity to restore items (experiment 2). Children were as likely to engage in third-party interventions as they were when personally affected, yet they did not discriminate among the different sources of harm for the victim. When given a range of options, 3-year-olds chose restoration over removal. It appears that a sense of justice centered on harm caused to victims emerges early in childhood and highlights the value of third-party interventions for human cooperation. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.