Are moral intuitions socially learned? An investigation in three-year-olds

Turner, Cameron (2011). Are moral intuitions socially learned? An investigation in three-year-olds Honours Thesis, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland.

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Author Turner, Cameron
Thesis Title Are moral intuitions socially learned? An investigation in three-year-olds
School, Centre or Institute School of Psychology
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-10-12
Thesis type Honours Thesis
Supervisor Dr Emma Collier-Baker
Total pages 77
Language eng
Subjects 1701 Psychology
Abstract/Summary Proponents of moral nativism argue that our moral values were designed by natural selection to increase the genetic fitness of our ancestors. Arguing that a more sophisticated explanation is needed, the current experiment instead derives its hypotheses from dual inheritance theory: the notion that humans are unique in receiving a store of accumulated cultural knowledge from their group, along with genes. Accordingly, this study tested whether moral values are a form of cultural knowledge learnt fluently in childhood by observing adults. Because the basis of moral cognition is having emotional responses towards certain behaviours, it was tested specifically whether children learned to have the same emotional response towards behaviours as their group. Novel apparatuses were constructed for which there were two discrete actions which could be performed in retrieving a reward. Children observed four adults demonstrating one set of actions, followed by a fifth who used the alternative set of actions. The first four adults' emotional response to this fifth adults action's were manipulated between-groups: positive, negative, or neutral – this action therefore becoming a 'moralised action'. In line with previous cultural learning research, the behaviour children imitated in attaining the reward was measured, as well as how they behaved towards a third party (puppet) who performed the moralised action. It was predicted that the negative group response would cause less imitation of the moralised action, and more negative behaviours towards the moralised action using puppet, relative to the neutral response. Conversely, it was predicted that, relative to the neutral condition, the positive group response would cause more imitation and positive evaluations of a third-party using the moralised actions. These hypotheses failed to be supported, reasons for this and directions for future research were given. However, it was found that children systematically preferred to perform the actions of the four adults across conditions, suggesting a strong proclivity for conformity.
Keyword Moral intuitions
Social learning

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