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Journal Article

Children’s reasoning with peers and parents about moral dilemmas


Tomasello,  Michael       
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Mammen, M., Köymen, B., & Tomasello, M. (2019). Children’s reasoning with peers and parents about moral dilemmas. Developmental Psychology, 55(11), 2324-2335. doi:10.1037/dev0000807.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0004-C9D3-B
Children encounter moral norms in several different social contexts. Often it is in hierarchically structured interactions with parents or other adults, but sometimes it is in more symmetrically structured interactions with peers. Our question was whether children’s discussions of moral norms differ in these two contexts. Consequently, we had 4- and 6-year-old children (N = 72) reason about moral dilemmas with their mothers or peers. Both age groups opposed their partner’s views and explicitly justified their own views more often with peers than with mothers. Mothers adapted their discussions to the cognitive levels of their children (e.g., focused more on the abstract moral norms with 6-year-old children than with 4-year-old children), but almost always with a pedagogical intent. Our results suggest that with mothers, moral judgments are experienced mostly as non-negotiable dictums, but with coequal peers they are experienced more as personal beliefs that can be actively negotiated.