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Psychological and Deontic Concepts: Separate Domains or Intimate Connection?

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Abstract:

Despite recent research showing that children rapidly interpret human action in terms of intention, a long tradition of empirical research on moral development and recent conceptual analyses of the deontic domain suggest that children do not apply their understanding of intention to the deontic domain. However, two experiments are described showing that children do make that connection. Preschool children heard stories in which a protagonist was obliged to meet a particular condition if an action was to be taken (e.g. obliged to wear a coat if playing outside). When shown four pictures depicting each possible combination of: (1) the protagonist either performing the action or not, and (2) deliberately or accidentally failing to meet the obligation, children appropriately identified the protagonist as naughty when he or she was depicted as deliberately not meeting the obligation while performing the action. The findings proved to be robust across two different cultural settings. Implications for research on children’s developing theory of mind and their understanding of deontic concepts are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0017.00071

Affiliations: Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

Publication date: 1998-06-01

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