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Children’s Tattling: The Reporting of Everyday Norm Violations in Preschool Settings


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Tattling, defined as the reporting to a second party of norm violations committed by a third party, is a frequent but little-studied activity among young children. Participant observation and quantitative sampling are used to provide a detailed characterization of tattling in 2 preschools (initial mean age = 4.08 years, N = 40). In these populations, tattling represents the majority of talk about peers' behavior to third parties. It is usually truthful, it rarely refers to transgressions committed against other individuals, it is not often ignored by adults, it is performed more frequently by dominant children, and it correlates with teacher reports of relational aggression. These exploratory results suggest several new avenues of research into children's developing understanding of social norms.
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Children’s Tattling: The Reporting of Everyday Norm Violations in
Preschool Settings
Gordon P. D. Ingram and Jesse M. Bering
Queen’s University Belfast
Tattling, defined as the reporting to a second party of norm violations committed by a third party, is a
frequent but little-studied activity among young children. Participant observation and quantitative sampling
are used to provide a detailed characterization of tattling in 2 preschools (initial mean age = 4.08 years,
N= 40). In these populations, tattling represents the majority of talk about peers’ behavior to third parties. It
is usually truthful, it rarely refers to transgressions committed against other individuals, it is not often
ignored by adults, it is performed more frequently by dominant children, and it correlates with teacher
reports of relational aggression. These exploratory results suggest several new avenues of research into
children’s developing understanding of social norms.
Moral understanding does not develop in isolation
from other competences, but is used by children to
navigate everyday social interactions (for over-
views, see Dunn, 2006; Turiel, 2006). An example is
the use of normative appeals (e.g., ‘‘That’s not
fair!’’) in attempts to resolve social conflicts. Natu-
ralistic observation has proved useful in analyzing
such behavior, dating back to Piaget (1932), who
studied appeals to social norms in the context of
children’s street games. In family contexts, Dunn
(1988) carried out extensive naturalistic studies of
young children’s spontaneous justification and con-
demnation of everyday social behavior (see espe-
cially Dunn & Munn, 1987). Despite Piaget’s lead,
such activities have received less attention in peer
contexts, although Nucci and Turiel (1978) did
observe the responses of preschool children to
moral and conventional transgressions by peers in
naturalistic settings. One of the categories of
responses that they considered was that of verbal
reports to the teacher. This kind of response is
interesting because it represents the use of evalua-
tive language to recruit third-party involvement in
social problems, suggesting an early awareness of
the moral force of language.
In the present article, we link preschool chil-
dren’s everyday language use to their social and
moral development through a naturalistic study of
tattling. We define tattling as the reporting to a second
party of a third party’s counternormative behavior,
where ‘‘counternormative’’ may refer to explicitly
proscribed behavior, or to behavior that is unwel-
come to the individual who reports it and that they
implicitly believe will also be unwelcome to their
audience. The structure of tattling therefore offers a
window on how individual children start to relate
to social norms and to incorporate them in every-
day discourse.
Social norms can operate effectively only if they
are taught to new generations of children. Nichols
(2004) has argued that norms are more likely to be
selected for—through cultural selection—if they
can effectively pass through the ‘‘cognitive filter’’
of children’s learning processes, which are more
likely to happen if they produce a strong affective
response. Independent of this affective component,
Nichols also postulated that children are primed to
acquire a ‘‘normative theory’’ early in development,
suggesting that even very young children are
sensitive to normative statements by adults. He
cited the experiments of Harris and Nu
˜ez (1996),
who showed that 3- to 4-year-old children were
especially sensitive to actions that breached a
This research was supported by a grant from the Northern Ire-
land Department of Employment and Learning, as part of the
first author’s doctoral dissertation. We thank the teachers, class-
room assistants, and children for participating in the study; Beth-
any Heywood and Jared Piazza for coding the observational
data; Nicola Ingram and Paulo Sousa for reading and comment-
ing on the manuscript; and three anonymous reviewers at Child
Development for their many helpful suggestions.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Gordon P. D. Ingram, Institute of Cognition and Culture,
Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK. Electronic mail
may be sent to
Child Development, May/June 2010, Volume 81, Number 3, Pages 945–957
2010, Copyright the Author(s)
Journal Compilation 2010, Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
All rights reserved. 0009-3920/2010/8103-0020
permission rule, compared to actions that breached
a description rule. Their participants were better at
identifying a picture where a child was ‘‘doing
something naughty’’ than a picture where a child
was ‘‘doing something different’’ (1996, Experiment
4; cf. Cosmides, 1989). Results similar to this have
been found in cross-cultural studies with children
(Harris, Nu
˜ez, & Brett, 2001) and adults (Sugiy-
ama, Tooby, & Cosmides, 2002), suggesting that
there may be an innate cognitive bias toward iden-
tifying breaches of social norms. Harris (2000) has
pointed out that young children seem to generalize
very readily about normative obligations: ‘‘Any
novel obligation is understood in the light of a
well-organized, pre-existing concept of constraint’’
(p. 158). The same point was made by Rakoczy,
Warneken, and Tomasello (2008), who conducted
experiments in which an experimenter demon-
strated novel games (e.g., ‘‘daxing’’), played by
unfamiliar rules, to 2- and 3-year-old children.
When a puppet started playing and broke these
rules, the 3-year-olds spontaneously made both
‘‘normative protests’’ (e.g., ‘‘That’s not how you do
it!’’) and ‘‘imperative protests’’ (e.g., ‘‘Don’t do
that’’). The 2-year-olds were apparently too young
to make a significant number of normative protests,
but even at this early age they were given to mak-
ing imperative protests about the puppet’s behav-
If young children are especially sensitive to norm
violations in an experimental context, the same cog-
nitive bias might influence their natural verbal
behavior. We suspected that the general sensitivity
toward norm violations revealed by these experi-
ments would make young children more likely to
report everyday norm violations by peers. This led
us to predict that tattling (as broadly defined
above) would make up a large part of children’s
everyday communication about third-party behav-
ior, and that a study of the general characteristics
of tattling would reveal interesting features of chil-
dren’s attitudes to social norms.
Although analogous activities—such as snitching
(Rosenfeld, Jacobs, & Wright, 2003), whistleblowing
(Brewer & Selden, 1998), or eyewitness testimony
(Loftus, 1979)—are practiced by adults when they
report criminal behavior to an authority figure, the
word tattling is usually associated with young chil-
dren’s behavior. For much of the 20th century it
was disapproved of by educators, and seen as a
practice that children needed to be educated away
from (Williams, 1989). While not infrequently men-
tioned in studies of child development, tattling has
rarely been analyzed in depth, but more often sim-
ply listed as an example of undesirable behavior
(e.g., Hurlock & McDonald, 1934; McConnell, 1963).
A more detailed early treatment was by Smith
(1932), who noted that negative ‘‘criticism’’ of a
third party by children was much more common
than positive comments, and that unlike adults,
children often made their criticisms within earshot
of the target. This suggests that children did not see
anything counternormative about the act of tattling,
even in an era when tattling was likely to be
frowned upon by adults.
Apart from Smith’s (1932) early and rather
unsystematic study of children’s criticisms, no pre-
vious observational study seems to have focused
on tattling in an educational setting. The only
modern observational study devoted to tattling
was by Ross and den Bak-Lammers, who carried
out a longitudinal study of sibling dyads aged 2
and 4 (Den Bak & Ross, 1996), and 4 and 6 (Ross
& den Bak-Lammers, 1998). Siblings were observed
in their family homes, and all their utterances
recorded for later analysis. For all the age groups
studied, tattling made up a large proportion of talk
about the sibling’s behavior. This proportion
decreased with age (although tattling did increase
in absolute frequency), ranging from 87.1% among
the 2-year-olds, through 74.8% among the 4-year-
olds, to 56.4% among the 6-year-olds. One of the
main aims of the present study was to find out
whether the preponderance of tattling in young
children’s communication about siblings would
generalize to their communication about unrelated
Tattling on peers is quite prevalent among chil-
dren in elementary school settings, as Skinner,
Cashwell, and Skinner (2000) anecdotally attested
for the 9- to 10-year-old children with whom they
studied. Skinner and his colleagues had some suc-
cess with their program to encourage ‘‘tootling’’ (a
term they coined for the reporting of prosocial
behavior) by providing a collective reward for the
class when they reached a target number of ‘‘too-
tles’’ (see also Morrison & Jones, 2007). Implicit in
their account was the point that tattling, unlike too-
tling, does not have to be extrinsically rewarded in
order to take place but presumably has some sort
of intrinsic motivation. In some situations tattling
may be motivated by processes of emotion regula-
tion (Thompson, 1994). Cooney, Hutchison, and
Costigan (1996) postulated that toddlers’ tattling is
an intermediate stage in emotion regulation, which
supersedes direct physical aggression and precedes
more sophisticated forms of negotiation with peers
that do not rely on adult intervention.
946 Ingram and Bering
By adolescence, the overt reporting of peers’
transgressions to adult authority figures seems to
become much less common. In a questionnaire-
based study of tattling among teenagers in a resi-
dential care program, Friman et al. (2004) found
that perceived rates of tattling correlated nega-
tively with likeability and positively with social
rejection. On the other hand, evaluative talk about
peers to other peers becomes more important dur-
ing preadolescence and adolescence (e.g., Camer-
on, 1997; Fine, 1986; Goodwin, 1990). Several
groups of researchers have considered evaluative
talk among these age groups in terms of the theo-
retical constructs of relational,indirect and social
aggression (reviewed by Archer & Coyne, 2005).
Central to the first two of these constructs, and
often implicit in the third, is the idea that such ver-
bal aggression is often covert, so that perpetrators
are able to conceal their identities from their vic-
However, few observers have recorded covert
talk about others’ behavior among children youn-
ger than 9 years. In a discussion of children’s gos-
sip, Fine (1977) pointed out that early forms of talk
about peers are rarely covert: ‘‘One salient differ-
ence between the social structure of adult gossip
and that of children is that adult gossip is virtually
always about non-present others, whereas children
often gossip in front of the target’’ (p. 183). Mettetal
(1983) conducted quantitative, naturalistic research
into children’s everyday talk about peers, and
found that the frequency of gossip-like discussions
between dyads of girls increased dramatically
between the ages of 6–7 and 11–12, rising to about
one third of all conversations. A similar pattern
was found by Engel and Li (2004), who asked three
groups of children—aged 4, 7, and 10—to tell sto-
ries about their friends in semistructured inter-
views. The length, descriptiveness, and evaluative
content of the stories all increased significantly with
age, implying that the younger children’s stories
were far less informative than the older children’s.
This supported Engel and Li’s naturalistic observa-
tion, from tape recordings of conversations in a
day-care center, that 4-year-old children very rarely
told stories about absent peers: ‘‘It was surprisingly
difficult to catch the children gossiping’’ (p. 160).
Coupled with the observation of Ross and den Bak-
Lammers (1998) that tattling occupies a decreasing
proportion of overall communication about sibling
behavior, these results suggest that overt tattling
may decrease in importance through middle child-
hood at about the same time that covert gossip
From this brief survey of the existing literature
on tattling and other forms of evaluative social dis-
course in children, the following points informed
our research design. First, tattling is a widespread
activity among young children, but one that has
been little studied in any context—and that has
never been systematically studied in the context of
the preschool classroom. Second, as children grow
older, tattling to adults becomes both less frequent
and less overt: It tends to have negative reputa-
tional consequences, whereas the covert reporting
of peers’ activities to other peers becomes more
common. Third, tattling may involve the socializa-
tion of aggressive impulses, representing an inter-
mediate stage between physical violence and
negotiation when a child is confronted with unwel-
come behavior from a peer. With these points in
mind, we carried out an exploratory observational
study of tattling in the preschool classroom. As tat-
tling had never been systematically studied in the
preschool context, our study sought principally to
establish a baseline of data about the general char-
acteristics of young children’s tattling within peer
groups. The aim was to compare the results with
existing data on tattling in the home, and ultimately
to generate hypotheses for more focused observa-
tional and experimental work.
We used a mixture of quantitative and qualitative
empirical approaches (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003)
to characterize as many different properties of tat-
tling as possible. The first author engaged in partici-
pant observation of the children while working as a
volunteer classroom assistant in two preschools. For
about half of the observation time, he took on the
more detached role of an independent observer and
conducted behavioral sampling. The qualitative and
quantitative methodologies were complementary in
that the former helped us understand the meanings
and motivations of acts of tattling for both children
and adults, whereas the latter allowed us to quan-
tify various descriptive properties of tattling.
Research was conducted in two inner-city pre-
schools in Belfast, the principal city of Northern Ire-
land. The first preschool studied (Preschool A) was
situated in a low-income residential area of Belfast,
inhabited overwhelmingly by working-class Catho-
lics. All the children came from (Northern) Irish
Children’s Tattling 947
families, with the exception of one child who was
of mixed Irish Portuguese parentage. When
research began in November 2006, there were 15
children in the preschool (8 boys and 7 girls). Their
age at the start of the research, which lasted for
three calendar months, ranged from 3.52 to
4.32 years (M= 3.97). In January 2007 they were
joined by a younger girl aged 3.09 years, who was
present for about half of the study time. Preschool
B was situated in a semiresidential area of inner
Belfast with a large immigrant population and was
attended by a mixture of children who lived locally
and those whose parents worked nearby. Hence,
the children’s cultural backgrounds were more
diverse than in Preschool A: The majority came
from (Northern) Irish families, but 4 of the children
studied were Chinese, 1 was Malaysian, 1 Nigerian,
and 1 Zimbabwean. In addition, 2 children were of
mixed ethnicity (Irish German and Irish Spanish).
The study group comprised 24 children (13 boys
and 11 girls). Their age at the start of the study,
which lasted for 2 months from April 2007, ranged
from 3.23 to 4.65 years (M= 4.11).
Participant Observation
Participant observation allows a researcher to
map out the social and cultural context of human
activities, rather than taking an isolated reading of
behavior as with more structured observational
techniques (Hammersley & Atkinson, 2007; see
Corsaro, 2003, on participant observation in pre-
school settings). This method was used to contextu-
alize the quantitative research, partly by
investigating the meaning and motivation of chil-
dren’s acts of tattling, and partly by getting a sense
of how it felt, as an adult in a position of authority,
to receive behavioral reports from children about
their peers. The first author spent 2 months
engaged in participant observation at Preschool A,
working 3–4 days per week, for a total of 98 hr over
33 study days. He later spent 2 months at Preschool
B, working 2–3 days per week, for a total of 96 hr
over 23 study days. Both figures include time spent
in quantitative sampling: After the first week,
which was devoted solely to participant observa-
tion, most observation sessions started and finished
with a period of participant observation. Field notes
were typed up each afternoon after school had fin-
ished. In between the visits to the two preschools,
and during the analysis phase after all observation
was over, we analyzed the qualitative field notes
and categorized emergent themes in the research
(e.g., the various motivations for tattling).
Event Sampling
The quantitative method used most extensively
in this study was the event sampling of children’s
reports of peers’ behavior. Event sampling was cho-
sen because it is a useful method for systematically
recording a wide range of properties of everyday
experience, and for generating novel hypotheses
(Reis & Gable, 2000). At Preschool A, the first
author spent 31 hr on event sampling, spread over
15 study days in continuous sessions of between 1
and 3 hr in duration. At Preschool B, he spent 35 hr
on event sampling, over 15 study days. An event in
this study was defined as a verbal report of a peer’s
behavior (whether counternormative or not), made
by a child to someone else. Every event that was
overheard by the observer was recorded on paper,
as soon as possible after it occurred (usually within
1 min, and nearly always within 5 min). A small
number of events in the sessions (< 20 in total)
were omitted, either because of partial inaudibility
or because the observer was too busy to record
them when they occurred.
For each event, the following information was
coded on preformatted coding sheets in the obser-
ver’s notebook: the time at which the event
occurred; the child(ren) who made the report (the
tattler); the child(ren) who performed the reported
action (the miscreant); the adult(s) or (occasionally)
child to whom the report was made (the audience);
the person most affected by the reported behavior
(the victim), which was defined as either the tattler
themselves, the audience, a third party, or nobody
in particular; the truth value of the tattler’s account
(true, false, or indeterminate); the free-text content
of the tattler’s report (often verbatim); and a free-
text description of the audience’s response to the
event. After data collection, content analysis of the
content and response free-text fields was used to
code data using the coding schemes in the two
paragraphs below. For these additional categories,
half of the events were rated independently by a
second person who was blind to the observational
predictions and was given the definitions below,
along with examples similar to those in the appen-
dices. Interrater reliability for content type was
90%, and for response type it was 89% (Cohen’s
kappas were .87 and .84, respectively).
Content type. Reports of peers’ behavior were
assigned to one of 10 categories, following Ross
and den Bak-Lammers (1998). See Appendix A for
examples. Eight of these categories were consid-
ered to represent various kinds of norm violation.
Reports of physical aggression referred to any kind
948 Ingram and Bering
of unwanted physical contact, for example, hitting
or pushing. Property damage reports described any
kind of damage to property, for example, break-
ing a toy, or knocking over some blocks. Property
entitlement covered reports of someone taking
something that belonged to another child, or that
another child had been using, as well as children
refusing to share objects that they themselves
owned or were using. A report of social convention
referred to a violation of some conventional rule
of the classroom, such as standing on a chair, or
poor table manners. Joint play violations included
reports of a child obstructing another child’s play,
or refusing to play alongside them. Reports of
taunting referred to one child shouting at another
or calling them names. Deception reports described
another child lying to or otherwise misleading
someone. Reports of disagreement referred to one
child denying something that another child had
said or believed in. There were also two catego-
ries of reports that did not meet the definition of
tattling, as they did not describe counternorma-
tive behavior. In nonjudgmental reports the behav-
ior described was innocent and the child who
reported it did not seem to be seeking any pun-
ishment. Finally, positive reports consisted of an
approving description of another child’s prosocial
Response type. The actions of the audience in
response to a behavioral report were assigned to
one of eight categories, again following Ross and
den Bak-Lammers (1998). See Appendix B for exam-
ples. Supporting a tattler involved intervening on his
or her behalf, such as by verbally admonishing the
miscreant, or compelling her to hand over a toy to
another child. Acknowledging a report consisted of
agreeing or sympathizing with the tattler but not
saying anything to the miscreant about the reported
behavior. Excusing an action involved asserting to
the tattler that the behavior reported is innocent or
justified. Ignoring was coded if the audience did not
seem to respond to the tattler in any meaningful
way. When reprimanding a tattler, the audience
reproached the tattler for tattling or for the tattler’s
own reported behavior. In some cases, both tattler
and miscreant were reprimanded—the implication
being that they had both been involved in the
reported activity—and this received its own code.
Finally, a questioning response took place when the
audience tried to find out exactly what had hap-
pened by questioning the tattler, the miscreant, or
both, but was unable to reach any firm conclusions
(i.e., the response did not resolve into any other cat-
Point Sampling of Social Networks
Tattling is not just an individual activity but a
relational activity between children and the peers
whose behavior they report. It might therefore vary
according to the social relations between individu-
als. We built up a picture of the social networks in
the two classrooms and the sociability of individual
children, by using point sampling to record the
composition of children’s play groups during free
play sessions. In Preschool A, group membership
was surveyed at a set time every morning. Several
study days were also devoted to point sampling,
taking a sample every 15 min for the duration of
the morning. In all, 106 point samples were taken,
each of which recorded the group membership of
every child present. In the busier environment of
Preschool B, point sampling was conducted on a
more infrequent and ad hoc basis (18 samples,
spread over nine study days).
Focal Follows and Dominance Analysis
In Preschool A, each child was observed individ-
ually for 1 hr. This hour was made up of one 30-
min and two 15-min sessions per child, carried out
on three separate days. Everything that the focal
child did during these sessions was noted. The
motivation for the focal follows was twofold: first,
to check that the event sampling of the children’s
verbal reports was not biased toward the most
audible or attention-grabbing children, and second,
to investigate the dominance hierarchy within the
classroom. A common method for analyzing the
dominance hierarchies of toddlers is to code for
incidences of direct aggression (e.g., Strayer &
Strayer, 1976). However, examples of direct aggres-
sion become much less frequent by age 4 (Hawley,
1999) and were rarely observed in Preschool A;
therefore, instead we analyzed several types of
social interaction that included a clear element of
direction of one child’s behavior by another (cf.
Barner-Barry, 1988; La Freniere & Charlesworth,
Child Xwas considered to have taken part in a
dominant interaction with Child Yif any one of
the following behavioral patterns occurred: (a) X
initiated physical contact with Y, and Ydid not
resist; (b) Xtold Yto do something, and Ycom-
plied; (c) Yimitated X’s behavior; (d) Yfollowed
Xto another part of the room. In each case, the
behavior of both children was important, empha-
sizing the point that dominance is a function of
dyadic relations rather than of individual behavior
Children’s Tattling 949
alone (Strayer & Strayer, 1976). However, for many
dyads there were no examples of such interactions,
and so it was impossible to construct a single tran-
sitive hierarchy that included all the children.
Therefore, the ratio of total dominant to submis-
sive interactions for each child was used as an
index of relative dominance. The dominance hier-
archy constructed using this measure was in accor-
dance with the transitive subhierarchies that were
constructed based on interactions between specific
dyads, and with qualitative observations and infor-
mal teacher reports of children’s relative domi-
Teacher Ratings of Relational Aggression
Due to time constraints and the larger class size,
and because we had some confidence from the
first preschool that the event sampling procedure
would not underestimate the level of tattling, no
focal follows were carried out in Preschool B.
Instead, we administered the Relational Aggres-
sion factor of the Preschool Social Behavior Scale
Teacher form (PSBS-T; see Crick, Casas, & Mosher,
1997) to the teacher and classroom assistant in Pre-
school B, to find out if there was a link between
tattling and relational aggression. As mentioned in
our Introduction, some forms of evaluative dis-
course in children have been analyzed as instances
of relational aggression, defined as ‘‘harming oth-
ers through purposeful manipulation and damage
of their peer relationships’’ (Crick & Grotpeter,
1995, p. 711). The relational aggression factor of
the PSBS–T consists of six descriptions of chil-
dren’s characteristic behavior (e.g., ‘‘Tells others
not to play with or be a peer’s friend’’), on which
each child was rated using a 5-point Likert scale.
Crick et al. (1997) demonstrated that this factor
was internally consistent and independent of
the overt aggression, prosocial behavior, and
depressed affect factors. McEvoy, Estrem, Rodri-
guez, and Olson (2003) found strong intermethod
agreement between teacher ratings on the PSBS–T,
peer nominations, and direct observation of rela-
tional aggression.
Content of Children’s Behavioral Reports
Children’s tattling, operationalized as the report-
ing of the various categories of norm violations
described in the Method section, was far more fre-
quent than the reporting of positive or neutral
behavior. Event sampling recorded 354 examples
(93.1%) of tattling (M= 1.26 reports per child per
day attended, SD = 1.12), 25 examples (6.6%) of
nonjudgmental talk (M= 0.09, SD = 0.14), and just
1 example (.3%) of positive talk about a peer’s
activities. There were no significant differences
between the preschools either in the mean fre-
quency of all behavioral reports per child, or in the
mean proportion of negative reports, both ts<1,
both ps > .5. The range of behavioral reporting was
0–6.31 events per child per day attended.
Tattling might be expected to be more noticeable,
and thus more readily observable, than other forms
of talk about peers. However, a similar effect was
observed in the data from the focal follows, where
it would have been difficult to miss any kind of
behavioral report about a third party made by the
focal child. Of 32 instances in the focal follow data
where a focal child was involved in a behavioral
report, only two reports (6.3%) were nonjudgmen-
tal, and none were positive. Examples of actual tat-
tling content are listed in Appendix A. No
examples were found of one of the predefined cate-
gories of tattling content (deception). For the other
seven categories, mean frequencies of children’s tat-
tling are shown in Table 1. A series of ttests
revealed no significant differences in tattling con-
tent between preschools, though there were trends
for children in Preschool A more frequently to
report both social conventional issues, t(16.2) =
1.86, p= .081, and disputes over property entitle-
ment, t(38) = 1.74, p= .090.
For event samples where it was possible to deter-
mine unambiguously the truth of a behavioral
Table 1
Frequency of Reported Categories of Counter-normative Behavior
Preschool A
Preschool B
Property entitlement 0.53 (0.49) 0.32 (0.29) 0.41 (0.39)
Physical aggression 0.25 (0.27) 0.38 (0.40) 0.33 (0.36)
Social convention 0.31 (0.47) 0.09 (0.11) 0.18 (0.32)
Joint play 0.08 (0.21) 0.17 (0.20) 0.l4 (0.21)
Property damage 0.16 (0.23) 0.06 (0.16) 0.10 (0.20)
Taunting 0.07 (0.10) 0.12 (0.15) 0.10 (0.14)
Disagreement 0.02 (0.05) 0.01 (0.03) 0.01 (0.04)
Mean frequency of events reported by each child, per
standardized school day attended.
950 Ingram and Bering
report, a mean of 90.0% of reports were found to be
true. As many children in each preschool were
never observed to make a false report, there was no
difference whatsoever between the two schools on
this measure, t(32) = 0.020, p= .99. However in
43.1% of event samples, on average, the truth value
of the report was undetermined. This was partly
because the busy nature of the classroom environ-
ment sometimes made it difficult to record all the
relevant antecedents of the children’s disputes, and
partly because some reports (e.g., ‘‘He’s not listen-
ing to me!’’) were difficult to assign objective truth
values to without intensive questioning of the chil-
dren involved. In the focal follow data, where it
was much easier to determine the truth of chil-
dren’s claims, only 9 of 32 (28.1%) reports were of
undetermined truth value, and no false reports
were recorded. In most of the undetermined cases,
it is unlikely that the reports were false, as the
alleged miscreants rarely denied their offenses, and
the teachers rarely accused tattlers of lying. More-
over, the proportions of deceptive reports in our
study were well below the 10% of false reports that
were recorded. For example, Child Bmight crash
into Child Aon a tricycle, and Child Amight fal-
sely report to the teacher that Child Chad crashed
into him. This might be an error in face recognition,
or a slip of the tongue: There were very few events
in which the observer suspected that deliberate fab-
rication of a report was occurring. Mistaken ascrip-
tions of intention (e.g., ‘‘She pushed me!’’ when
one child accidentally knocked into another) were
more common.
Audience Responses to Tattling
Children were far more likely to report the
behavior of their peers to adults than to other chil-
dren: In the event samples, only 4 of 380 events
(1.1%) were reports made to other children. Table 2
shows the mean shares of the various types of audi-
ence response to tattling, ordered by overall fre-
quency. Examples of actual responses are supplied
in Appendix B. The most common response was
supporting the tattler, which accounted for around
50% of responses. If acknowledging is included as
a favorable response for the tattler, as it constitutes
positive attention from an authority figure, almost
70% of responses were favorable for the tattler, and
only 6% were clearly unfavorable (a reprimand for
the tattler alone or for both tattler and miscreant).
There were no significant differences between the
preschools in the proportions of these responses, all
ts < 1.5, all ps > .1.
Egocentric and Sociocentric Reports
Tattling was highly egocentric, in that it tended
to focus on achieving help or punishment for
another child’s negative behavior toward the tattler
(mean share = 0.77, SD = 0.24). Tattling on behalf
of third parties was quite rare (M= 0.06,
SD = 0.11), and reporting a transgression that
directly affected the audience was more unusual
still (M= 0.01, SD = 0.02). Tattling where there was
no clear victim—as with most breaches of social
convention—was more common (M= 0.16,
SD = 0.17). Children in Preschool A were more
likely than in Preschool B to report incidents where
there was no clear victim, t(34) = 2.17, p= .037,
which might be linked to their tendency to report
more social conventional violations.
In Preschool A there was a strong positive corre-
lation between children’s dominance, as measured
by the ratio of their dominant to subordinate inter-
actions, and the rate at which they tattled on other
children, r= .881, N= 16, p= .000007. That is, dom-
inant children reported others’ transgressions sig-
nificantly more than subordinate children. One
possible explanation for this is that children who
talked to the teacher more often were more likely
to engage in tattling. However, there were no corre-
lations between overall rates of addressing an adult
in the classroom, as recorded in the focal follows,
and either rates of tattling or ratio of dominant to
subordinate interactions, both rs < .25, both ps > .3.
Alternatively, sociability might be expected to
increase tattling on the part of dominant children,
as more social interactions might lead to more
potential for conflicts and therefore more opportu-
nities to report those conflicts. As the average
Table 2
Proportions of Audience Responses to Tattling
Preschool A
Preschool B
Supporting 0.52 (0.27) 0.44 (0.19) 0.47 (0.23)
Acknowledging 0.17 (0.27) 0.25 (0.24) 0.22 (0.25)
Excusing 0.08 (0.09) 0.12 (0.13) 0.11 (0.11)
Ignoring 0.14 (0.17) 0.07 (0.09) 0.10 (0.13)
Reprimanding 0.03 (0.05) 0.03 (0.09) 0.03 (0.08)
Both reprimanded 0.04 (0.13) 0.02 (0.04) 0.03 (0.09)
Questioning 0.12 (0.26) 0.13 (0.13) 0.12 (0.19)
Mean share of responses for each child who was tattling.
Children’s Tattling 951
number of play partners for a given child would be
affected by total attendance on the days that he or
she was present, we calculated an index of sociabil-
ity for each child, based on the ratio between the
actual number of interactions with every other
child and the potential number of interactions that
could have taken place (i.e., the number of point
samples at which both children were present).
There was no correlation between this sociability
index and either the frequency of children’s tattling
or the ratio of dominant to subordinate interactions,
both r< .3, both p> .3. Hence, there seemed to be a
specific link between dominance and tattling in this
preschool. (As explained in the Method section,
dominance was not analyzed in Preschool B.)
Relational Aggression
In Preschool B there was a strong correlation
between tattling frequency and a child’s score on
the relational aggression section of the PSBS–T tea-
cher-rated questionnaire, r= .590, N= 24, p= .002.
This demonstrates that tattling in this preschool co-
varied with verbal indices of relational aggression.
(The PSBS–T questionnaire was not administered in
Preschool A, as explained in the Method section.)
Gender Effects
No specific gender effects were predicted. Boys
(M= 3.21, SD = 0.88, n= 13) were far more likely
than girls (M= 1.60, SD = 0.72, n= 11), to be seen
by the teacher as relationally aggressive,
t(22) = 4.84, p= .00008. Girls’ behavioral reports
were slightly more truthful than boys’ reports, but
both were highly truthful (M= 0.98, SD = 0.05,
n= 19 for girls; M= 0.84, SD = 0.26, n= 21 for
boys), and this effect was not particularly signifi-
cant, t(19.8) = 2.36, p= .029, given the number of
potential gender effects that were tested (Bonfer-
roni-corrected a= 0.0025). As there was no differ-
ence in the overall tattling rates between genders,
t(38) = .882, p= .383, it was possible to directly
compare the frequencies of tattling by boys and
girls on the various categories of norm violation
(see Figure 1). The only significant difference was
in tattling on physical aggression, which boys
(M= 0.49 per day, SD = 0.41, n= 21) reported
much more frequently than girls (M= 0.15 per day,
SD = 0.16, n= 19), t(26.7) = 3.46, p= .002. There
was no significant effect of tattler gender on the fre-
quency of any of the various types of response to
tattling, all ts < 1.5, all ps.15. No effects of tattler
gender were found on the frequency of behavioral
reports, proportion of negative reports, or the likeli-
hood of the tattler being the victim, all ts < 1.0, all
ps > .3.
Our data suggest that tattling is an important form
of social communication for many young children.
The great majority of children’s talk about their
peers’ behavior took the form of descriptions of
norm violations. This was a robust finding that held
across both sexes in both preschools, and also in
the focal follow data (for which sampling bias was
less of an issue). Moreover, our data reiterate the
finding of a bias toward talk about counternorma-
tive behavior among all four groups of siblings
studied by Ross and den Bak-Lammers (1998).
Taken together, our preschool study and their sib-
ling study demonstrate that a bias toward reporting
norm violations by other children—while not nec-
essarily universal—is present in children of various
ages in differing social contexts. It seems that when
children first start talking to adults about what
another child has done, they use this faculty largely
to report behavior of which they disapprove. More
generally, Miller and Sperry (1988) found that
2-year-olds’ stories about past events were highly
evaluative, and that 64% of stories were concerned
with negative experiences. This may reflect an early
bias toward sharing negative experiences with care-
givers, perhaps caused by an ‘‘ontogenetic adapta-
tion’’ (Bjorklund & Pellegrini, 2000) for children to
Figure 1. Mean frequencies of tattling (adjusted for attendance)
by boys and girls in both preschools on the various categories of
norm violation. Error bars represent ±1 SE.
952 Ingram and Bering
seek aid or sympathy from adults when suffering a
negative affective response. However, the extent to
which such a bias is recruited in everyday life and
the precise kinds of events that are reported are
likely to be affected by local cultural norms of
discourse (Burger & Miller, 1999; Miller, Cho, &
Bracey, 2005).
Children in the present study were much more
likely to report disputes arising from issues of
property entitlement or physical aggression than
they were to report joint play disputes, taunting,
property damage, simple disagreements, or decep-
tion. Again, this is consistent with the findings of
Ross and den Bak-Lammers (1998). Nucci and Turi-
el (1978) likewise found that preschool children
were more likely to protest about moral (harm-
related) than conventional violations in a classroom
setting. Events involving physical harm are also
common in 2-year-olds’ stories about the past
(Miller & Sperry, 1988). It seems that young
children may preferentially report breaches of
‘‘affect-backed’’ norms (see Nichols, 2004), involv-
ing physical harm or property loss. Even at the age
of 3, nonetheless, they can generalize this form of
communication to breaches of simple social norms
(such as shouting, or going into inappropriate areas
of the classroom) but very rarely report instances of
deception or disagreement—perhaps because an
understanding of such complex linguistic norms
requires an advanced theory of mind (Astington,
Regardless of content, the great majority (90%) of
children’s reports about peers’ behavior were true,
at least for cases in which truth could be easily
determined. This figure is similar to Ross and den
Bak-Lammers’s (1998) finding of a mean of 94.3%
truthful reports across all four groups that they
studied. Moreover, most false reports seemed to be
mistaken rather than fabricated. This bias toward
truthful communication is interesting because chil-
dren of this age—and younger—are certainly capa-
ble of lying in both naturalistic and experimental
settings (for a review, see Lee & Talwar, in press).
Indeed, children in the present study were often
observed to lie in response to tattling, usually by
means of a simple denial such as ‘‘No I didn’t!’’ As
strategic deception requires a high level of execu-
tive control (Hala & Russell, 2001), it may be that
by this stage of development children’s executive
competence enables them to make false denials of
responsibility, but not yet to fabricate complex nar-
ratives that might successfully absolve them of
responsibility. This finding argues against stereo-
typical views of tattling as ‘‘telling tales’’ (i.e., mak-
ing up stories), suggesting as it does that young
children’s reports of peers’ behavior are usually
Children were more inclined to report the behav-
ior of those who had harmed or offended them
directly. At a pragmatic level, this finding may
reflect a general egocentric bias in children’s dis-
course (Rubin, 1973). At a motivational level, it
may also reflect a greater incentive to punish peers
who have offended against the subject rather than
those who have harmed a third party. Nevertheless,
children as young as 2 are capable of sociocentric
speech (Bruner, 1983), and indeed in about 25% of
cases, in the present study, children reported social
conventional violations for which there was no
clear victim. It is interesting that children reported
social conventional violations much more fre-
quently than transgressions against a third party.
This suggests a certain level of social cognitive
awareness, in that they may have assumed that the
victims in the latter type of case could speak up for
Tattling was rarely ignored by adults and often
led to a teacher or classroom assistant intervening
in support of a child—whether by punishing the
reported miscreant or by resolving a dispute in
favor of the tattler. There would seem to be little
risk involved in tattling, in that few tattling events
led to a negative response for the speaker (this is
also true of the family context; Ross & den Bak-
Lammers, 1998). Furthermore, qualitative observa-
tions during the participant observational part of
the current study showed that while an explicit
threat of tattling sometimes deterred peers from
carrying out an undesired activity, tattling rarely
led to aggressive retaliation on the part of peers
(except in the form of reciprocal tattling). Com-
pared to direct physical retaliation—which might
lead either to an escalation in aggression or to pun-
ishment by staff—tattling might thus be a useful,
and low-risk, social strategy for young children to
follow in seeking punishment for a perceived
wrong. Yet qualitative observations also indicated
that children’s motivations for tattling were highly
variable across individuals and situations (see
Ingram, 2009, for a detailed analysis). Punishment
did not result in the majority of cases and was usu-
ally mild: Admonishment sometimes consisted sim-
ply of saying the transgressor’s name in a
disapproving tone. Often it seemed to be enough
for children that an adult was paying attention to
them and that their concerns about another’s
behavior were being acknowledged. Tattling is
therefore more likely to be motivated by a general
Children’s Tattling 953
drive to externalize emotional problems, than by a
conditionally learned strategy to achieve punish-
There were notable individual differences in tat-
tling. Analysis of social hierarchies in Preschool A
showed that dominant individuals tattled signifi-
cantly more frequently than other children. Tattling
is sometimes a response to a (perceived) aggressive
action by another individual, and this may mean
that it is practiced more by dominant children, who
more often retaliate against peers’ aggression
(Strayer & Strayer, 1976). In an environment where
children’s physical aggression is frequently pun-
ished by adults, dominant individuals’ retaliatory
impulses may be socialized and directed into indi-
rect, verbal behavior (Cooney et al., 1996; Hawley,
1999). Tattling may be one of several interpersonal
strategies—including relationally aggressive behav-
ior such as saying ‘‘I’m not your friend,’’ verbally
aggressive behavior such as threats or taunts, and
direct physical aggression such as pushing—which
some preschool children use, to varying degrees, to
achieve social dominance. Although dominant chil-
dren were no more likely than other children to
address the teachers in general terms, it could also
be that dominant children were less shy about the
specific activity of drawing an adult’s attention to
social problems. These possibilities are not mutu-
ally exclusive; that is, manipulating others’ atten-
tion may contribute to dominance in young
The results of the PSBS–T questionnaire adminis-
tered in Preschool B suggest that there are links
between tattling and relational aggression. The
same children who often engaged in relationally
aggressive activities, such as telling peers that they
would not be their friend, tended to tattle the most
frequently. On the other hand, relational aggression
has been defined as behavior that ‘‘harms others
through damage to their peer relationships (e.g.,
using social exclusion or rumor spreading as a form
of retaliation)’’ (Crick et al., 1997, p. 579). Relational
aggression is often also characterized as covert
(Archer & Coyne, 2005)—for example, whispering
behind someone’s back—whereas tattling in these
two preschools was overt and unashamed, often
taking place right in front of the tattling target. As
it is often overt, tattling may be more closely
related to social aggression, a construct defined to
include both covert and overt forms of nonphysical
aggression (Archer & Coyne, 2005; Galen & Under-
wood, 1997). Moreover, it is unlikely that children
who tattled always intended to harm the tattling
targets. Sometimes, they may well have been moti-
vated by a desire to win praise from the teacher or
to correct some inequity in the classroom (Ingram,
2009), in an early form of restorative justice. More
research is needed on the affective dimensions of
tattling, and on its relation with other forms of
social communication.
One advantage of doing participant observation,
in addition to quantitative sampling, was that it
gave us a sense of the broad range of motivations
for tattling. Tattling could sometimes be a strategic
element of interchild conflict, as demonstrated by
the fact that children occasionally threatened to do
it (‘‘I’m telling the teacher!’’) as a sanction against
unwelcome behavior by a peer. Yet tattling was not
always an aggressive reprisal for a perceived wrong
against the tattler: It sometimes seemed to be more
concerned with providing useful information about
rule breaking to an authority figure. When children
tattled about nonegocentric events, it often seemed
to be the principle of justice that most concerned
them—an assertion of the rights and wrongs of the
matter, rather than any particular settlement. For
example, a frequent topic of tattling occurred when
one child was perceived to take more than his or
her fair share of bread or milk at the snack table.
Other children would report this even when they
themselves had plenty of food and drink in front of
them. They seemed to be concerned with the princi-
ple of one child having relatively more than the
others, rather than with any absolute loss of
resources on their own part (for related experimen-
tal results, see Damon, 1977; Fehr, Bernhard, &
Rockenbach, 2008). Hence the motivating force
behind tattling may sometimes be a drive to enforce
the rules as the child perceives them, in pursuit of a
sense of justice or social equity. What might pro-
duce such a drive? One cause might be a reluctance
to see another go unpunished for an offense for
which the tattler has been punished in the past,
thus reducing the tattler’s relative standing.
Another cause, which would fit well with our dom-
inance results, might be a tendency for leaders to
gain prestige from enforcing social norms (O’Gor-
man, Henrich, & Van Vugt, 2009).
There were several limitations to the present
study. It was based on hand-written observations
of a large body of children’s discourse: An analysis
based on several hours of audio or video recording
of focal children would contain fewer examples of
tattling but might allow for finer-grained observa-
tion of the motivational and affective dimensions of
tattling. Although two preschools were com-
pared—and tattling took a generally similar form in
each, with no robustly significant differences—both
954 Ingram and Bering
schools were in the same city, and so it would be
interesting to contrast the results from these schools
with results from culturally different populations. It
would also be worth comparing preschoolers’
reporting of peer behavior with similar activities by
older children in educational settings, thus comple-
menting and extending the longitudinal study of
Ross and den Bak-Lammers (1998) in home set-
tings. It would be especially useful to carry the
study of tattling up to preadolescence, as this may
be when the activity first becomes derogated by
peers (cf. Friman et al., 2004).
In this article we have extended the study of tat-
tling to preschool settings, showing that it took a
similar form in this context as for preschool-age
children in the home context. Our results in the
areas of negative bias, truthfulness, and adult
responses to tattling are broadly in agreement with
the findings of Ross and den Bak-Lammers (1998)
for tattling between siblings. Children’s general bias
toward reporting norm violations also recalls the
sensitivity toward norm violations in experimental
settings reported by Harris and Nu
˜ez (1996) and
Rakoczy et al. (2008). Further experimental work
needs to be done regarding the cognitive mecha-
nisms responsible for this bias: Are norm violations
simply more salient, and therefore more worthy of
verbal attention, or are children’s verbal accounts of
behavior always influenced by strategic consider-
ations? Individual variations in tattling, and in par-
ticular the relations that we found with dominance
and relational aggression, require carefully
designed follow-up research. We conclude that tat-
tling is a robust but individually flexible pattern of
behavior, which is likely to undergo interesting
developmental changes as children grow older and
acquire an advanced theory of mind (see Ingram,
Piazza, & Bering, 2009). Tattling may be an active
part of the process by which some children learn to
live in a world of social norms and social conflicts.
It is thus an early example of the human ability to
use language to externalize strategic problems and
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Appendix A
Example Content Types of Children’s Behavioral Reports
Report category Examples of report content
Physical aggression ‘‘He tried to bited [sic] me’’
‘‘Jack hurt me with the wheel’’
Property damage ‘‘She hit this thing’’
‘‘Matthew, he’s knocking down the tower’’
Property entitlement ‘‘He won’t let me have the scissors’’
‘‘Mudiwa took two breads’’
Social convention ‘‘Both of them ‘uns have Power Rangers—I seen them under the table’’
‘‘They’re being very loud’’
Joint play violation ‘‘She’s not finished yet [with the paintbrush]; she won’t hurry up’’
‘‘I wanted to be in there [the box] and Jack pushed it off me’’
Taunting ‘‘She’s shouting at me’’
‘‘James said I’m not Superman; James said I’m bad’’
Disagreement ‘‘She said she was in a different school’’
‘‘I stood on Adam’s foot—he said I did it on purpose but I didn’t’’
Nonjudgmental ‘‘He didn’t get any milk’’
‘‘He was trying to get in the car and I jumped in first’’
Positive ‘‘Emma gave me a flag’’
Appendix B
Examples of Responses to Tattling by Audience
Response category Examples of response content
Supporting Confiscated toys: ‘‘You know you’re not allowed them’’
‘‘Tell him I’m not happy about that’’
Acknowledging Said ‘‘Does she?’’ and looked at the dolls
Told tattler that she would talk to miscreant about it (but never seemed to)
Excusing ‘‘That’s OK’’
‘‘It was probably an accident’’
Ignoring Pretty much ignored (probably because the boys had been throwing things too)
More or less ignored, because everyone was going down into the playground
Reprimanding tattler Told tattler not to be fighting
‘‘You are all little tell-tales, aren’t you—always telling tales on each other!’’
Both tattler and miscreant reprimanded Ascertained that it was an accident, and told both boys to say sorry to each other
Called both boys over and told them sternly not to climb on things
Questioning Asked if it was an accident
Questioning interrupted by arrival of tattler’s mother
Children’s Tattling 957
... This is an especially relevant response for children and adolescents, who may not be positioned to directly punish others or rectify harm done, but who frequently have access to an authority figure such as a parent, teacher, or police officer. Thus, reporting behavior, sometimes referred to as "tattling," has received much attention in the developmental literature (Chiu Loke et al., 2011Den Bak & Ross, 1996;Heyman et al., 2016;Ingram & Bering, 2010;Lyon et al., 2010;Misch et al., 2018;Ross & Bak-Lammers, 1998;Watson & Valtin, 1997). ...
... Specifically, little is known about how this influences their reaction to the transgression-especially whether they decide to report to an authority figure. In the existing work on children's (ages 3-12) reporting decisions, there has been considerable variation across studies in whether the transgressor was a stranger or anonymous (Chiu Loke et al., 2011Heyman et al., 2016;Vaish et al., 2011), a hypothetical or real friend or sibling (Den Bak & Ross, 1996;Ross & Bak-Lammers, 1998;Watson & Valtin, 1997), or a classmate (with relational closeness either unspecified or not controlled for, Friman et al., 2004;Ingram & Bering, 2010; and most of the questions in Brank et al., 2007). Relationship to the transgressor has thus varied across studies, but not been systematically manipulated. ...
This dissertation contains a philosophical project and a psychological project. Together, they explore two central themes, and the relation between them: (1) doxastic control and the ethics of belief, and (2) the moral and epistemic import of close personal relationships. The philosophical project (Chapters 1 and 2) concerns a central puzzle in the ethics of belief: how can we make sense of apparent obligations to believe for moral or practical reasons, if we lack the ability to form beliefs in response to such reasons? I draw on empirical work in emotion regulation to make progress on this problem of doxastic control. The psychological project (Chapters 3 and 4) concerns the role of relational closeness in moral judgment: though empirical moral psychology has traditionally focused on judgments about anonymous strangers, I contribute to a growing body of work showing how personal relationships can dramatically affect moral reasoning. Chapter 1, “Acceptance and the Ethics of Belief,” develops an empirically plausible and mechanistically detailed account of acceptance, the attitude classically characterized as “taking a proposition as a premise in practical reasoning and action.” I argue that acceptance centrally involves preventing a belief from playing its characteristic role in guiding cognition, reasoning, and action, that this centrally involves a “cognitive gating” operation, and that this view gains empirically plausibility by its analogy to well-studied strategies in emotion regulation. Ultimately, I defend acceptance as doxastic response modulation. I propose that this account holds promise for addressing puzzles in the ethics of belief—a domain plagued by the central theoretical challenge of our inability to believe for non-evidential reasons. Chapter 2, “Reframing Epistemic Partiality,” applies my account of acceptance to a specific debate in the ethics of belief: the epistemic partiality debate, which asks whether we sometimes ought to believe against the evidence regarding our friends. Though compelling, the partialist view has been plagued by serious objections. I argue that the debate has been focused on the wrong doxastic attitude: recasting our duties of friendship as duties of acceptance, rather than belief, satisfies the partialist intuitions, without falling prey to the varied objections against the view. Chapter 3, “What We Would (but Shouldn’t) Do for Those We Love” builds on prior work demonstrating that people say they are far more likely to report a distant other, compared to a close other, who commits a serious moral transgression. Across four studies, I demonstrate that people not only say they would protect close others more than distant others, but also that they say it is morally right to show such partiality towards close others. Furthermore, I show that people say that they would protect close others more than they think they should—suggesting that moral decisions involving those closest to us may be a context in which people are particularly likely to fail to do what they think is right. Chapter 4, “How Relationship Affects Adolescents’ Decisions to Report Moral Transgressions,” investigates how 6th-9th graders respond to the transgressions of close versus distant others. Given the social importance of peer relationships in adolescence, the role of relationship is central to understanding this stage of moral development. I show that adolescents—like adults—are more likely to report distant others who transgress than close others, and more likely to report serious moral transgressions than minor ones.
... 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).
... In sum, the developmental patterns outlined in this meta-analysis suggested that there are consistent age-related increases in children's understanding of morality versus conventions across all judgments, but there is also variability in the pace of development of these judgments. The age differences found here are consistent with research on children's spontaneous responses to rule violations, which also appear to reflect children's awareness of differences between moral and conventional rules (e.g., Hardecker et al., 2016;Ingram & Bering, 2010;Schmidt et al., 2012;Yucel et al., 2020). From around the age of 3 on, children demonstrate more intense responses to moral transgressions than to conventional transgressions, and they protest in-group members' violations of conventions, although they disapproved rule violations in general by intervening in both. ...
Understanding distinctions between morality and conventions is an important milestone in children's moral development. The current meta-analysis integrated decades of social domain theory research (Smetana, 2006; Turiel, 1983) on moral and conventional judgments from early to middle childhood. We examined 95 effect sizes from 18 studies (2,707 children; Mage = 7.30 years; 51% females; 42% Whites). Along with these, effects from additional 28 studies were estimated with imputed correlations in a secondary analysis of 248 effect sizes from 46 studies (4,469 children; Mage = 7.34 years; 46% females; 32% Whites). Across all judgments, moral/conventional distinction effects were significant, positive, and moderate. Consistent with social domain theory definitions of morality, children evaluated moral transgressions as more wrong independent of authorities' commands or rules than conventional transgressions and moral rules as more generalizable and inalterable than conventional rules. Moral transgressions also were seen as more unacceptable and more deserving of punishment than conventional transgressions. The aggregated effects were also significant for each type of judgment. However, effects were stronger for criteria considered definitional of the domains than for acceptability or punishment judgments, which are not considered criteria. Moreover, children made greater domain distinctions with age across all types of judgments. When examined separately, age moderated effects only for criterion judgments, not for acceptability or punishment judgments. Effects for distinctions also were moderated by the types of moral and conventional rules assessed. Thus, moral/conventional distinctions were found across early and middle childhood, but there was variability in children's developing understanding. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
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.
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Celem artykułu jest scharakteryzowanie inteligencji moralnej oraz, ukazanie znaczenia tworzenia dzieciom warunków do rozwoju tego rodzaju inteligencji i wartości moralnych w środowisku domowym oraz szkolnym. Artykuł ma charakter teoretyczny - obejmuje wyjaśnienie zagadnienia inteligencji, w tym inteligencji moralnej i jej nabywania poprzez wychowanie, uczenie oraz modelowanie. Istotną częścią artykułu jest przedstawienie wagi kształtowania uniwersalnych zasad dla rozwoju moralnego najmłodszych i ochrony ich przed narastającymi trudnościami w zachowaniu. Współczesne dzieci funkcjonują w epoce oddziaływań naukowych i technologicznych. Sytuacja taka przyczynia się w pewien sposób do zachwiania równowagi pomiędzy preferowanymi a wyznawanymi wartościami, a także powoduje występowanie wielu trudnych zachowań. Podjęte rozważania wskazują na istotną rolę wychowania realizowanego w środowisku rodzinnym i szkolnym w kształtowaniu umiejętności odróżniania przez dzieci dobra i zła oraz w rozwijaniu systemu uniwersalnych zasad moralnych. Edukacja podjęta na płaszczyźnie rodzinnej i szkolnej może pomóc w rozwijaniu odpowiedzialności, uczciwości, umiejętności przebaczenia i współczucia. Wysiłek moralny podjęty przez ważne dla dziecka środowiska może przyczynić się do wyzwolenia ich potencjału oraz motywacji do działań prowadzących do poczucia szczęścia i sprawiedliwości.
Research in adults has revealed that observers may be more forgiving of a third party’s moral transgressions if they view them as having a positive moral character. While there is evidence to suggest that children engage in this behaviour by 11 years of age, it is unclear when in development it emerges. The current study thus investigated whether children 6–11 (N = 126) years old use moral character in their moral evaluations. Across 6 trials, children were introduced to agents of varying moral characters (good, bad, and mixed) who had performed a moral transgression. Children were then asked to judge this moral transgression by either rating the unacceptability of it or suggesting an appropriate punishment. We found that moral character affected evaluations for all ages in this sample, suggesting that children have this capacity from 6 years old. Furthermore, we found that judgements of unacceptability were driven by leniency for ‘good’ characters, and suggestions of punishment were driven by harsher punishment for ‘bad’ characters. This suggests further research in younger populations, as well as investigation into potential differences between making a judgement and suggesting a punishment.
Adults often respond negatively toward children with incarcerated parents. Yet, the developmental foundations for such negativity remain unclear. Two studies (N = 331 U.S. residents; plurality White; plurality male; data collected between Winter 2019 and Spring 2021) addressed this topic. Study 1 probed 5‐ to 6‐year‐olds' and 7‐ to 8‐year‐olds' inferences about peers with and without incarcerated parents. Children reported less certainty that peers with, versus without, incarcerated parents possess moral beliefs. Study 2 showed that among older children, inferences about parental absence did not fully account for this pattern of results. Across studies, children behaved less generously toward peers with, versus without, incarcerated parents. These studies illuminate how early socio‐moral judgment may contribute to negativity toward children with incarcerated parents.
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.
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Human social interaction is strongly shaped by other-regarding preferences. These preferences are key for a unique aspect of human sociality – large scale cooperation with genetic strangers – but little is known about their developmental roots. We show here that young children’s other-regarding preferences assume a particular form – inequality aversion – that develops strongly between the ages of 3 and 8. At age 3-4, the overwhelming majority of children behave selfishly, while the vast majority at age 7-8 prefers resource allocations that remove advantageous or disadvantageous inequality. Moreover, inequality aversion is strongly shaped by parochialism, a preference for favouring the members of one’s own social group. These results indicate that human egalitarianism and parochialism have deep developmental roots, and the simultaneous emergence of altruistic sharing and parochialism during childhood is intriguing in view of recent evolutionary theories which predict that the same evolutionary process jointly drives both human altruism and parochialism.
Social aggression consists of actions directed at damaging another's self-esteem, social status, or both, and includes behaviors such as facial expressions of disdain, cruel gossipping, and the manipulation of friendship patterns. In Study 1, 4th, 7th, and 10th graders completed the Social Behavior Questionnaire; only boys viewed physical aggression as more hurtful than social aggression, and girls rated social aggression as more hurtful than did boys. In the 1st phase of Study 2, girls participated in a laboratory task in which elements of social-aggression were elicited and reliably coded. In the 2nd phase of Study 2, another sample of participants (elementary, middle, and high school boys and girls) viewed samples of socially aggressive behaviors from these sessions. Girls rated the aggressor as more angry than boys, and middle school and high school participants viewed the socially aggressive behaviors as indicating more dislike than elementary school children.
This volume develops a new account of the nature of moral judgment. Evidence from developmental psychology and psychopathologies suggests that emotions play a crucial role in normal moral judgment. This indicates that philosophical accounts of moral judgment that eschew the emotions are mistaken. However, the volume also argues that prevailing philosophical accounts that embrace a role for the emotions are also mistaken. The empirical work points to a quite different account of moral judgment than philosophers have considered, an account in which normative rules and emotions make independent contributions to moral judgment. Further, the volume argues that the emotions play an important role in the normative rules that get fixed in the culture. The history of norms indicates that norms that resonate with our emotions are more likely to survive.