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I may not like you, but I still care: Children differentiate moral concern from other constructs


Neldner,  Karri       
Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Neldner, K., Wilks, M., Crimston, C. R., Jaymes, R. W. M., & Nielsen, M. (2023). I may not like you, but I still care: Children differentiate moral concern from other constructs. Developmental Psychology, 59(3), 549-566. doi:10.1037/dev0001485.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-346D-0
In industrialized societies, adults exhibit stable preferences for the types of people, animals, and entities they feel moral concern for (Crimston et al., 2016). Only one published study to date has utilized the moral circles paradigm to examine these preferences in children, finding that as children age, their preferences shift to become more similar to adults’ (Neldner et al., 2018). However, it is currently unclear whether children’s conceptualization of moral concern differs from that of other related social constructs. The aim of the current study was twofold: first, to test the moral circles paradigm in a new sample of children to see whether published patterns of moral concern could be replicated and, second, to investigate whether children distinguish moral concern from the related constructs of liking and familiarity. Australian children aged 4 to 10 years old (N = 281; 143 boys, 138 girls; predominantly middle class) placed 24 pictures of human, animal, and environmental entities on a stratified circle according to how much they cared, liked, or knew about the targets. We found similar patterns of moral prioritization to previous research (Neldner et al., 2018), replicating both stable preferences and age-related changes in children’s moral concern for others. Crucially, we extend these findings by showing that children distinguish how much they care about entities from their levels of liking and knowing about them. This suggests children differentiate between moral concern and other social constructs early in development and display distinct patterns of prioritization when evaluating everyday entities according to these judgments.