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Children's Conceptions of Norms and Their Attitudes to Norm Violations

The CEU Campus
Wednesday, January 9, 2019, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

This presentation will combine two approaches to understanding young children’s conceptions of normativity. Firstly, a theoretical argument integrating a large body of literature (including the well-established protest paradigm) will be advanced, suggesting that the earliest conceptions of what is right (normative) is not well-differentiated from what is intended. For philosophers, an almost insurmountable challenge has been to explain how what should be can be inferred from what is. For psychologists, the challenge is instead to explain why humans in fact routinely make that inference. This theory posits that the normativity concept arises from the interaction between phylogenetically ancient valence-based approach/avoid systems and more recent linguistic systems supporting talk about good and bad. The conflation between what is and what ought to be arises because of automatic connections between valence judgement and intention generation systems. Secondly this talk will focus on the presenter’s own program of empirical work examining children’s responses to moral norm violations, with the ultimate aim of discovering the proximate causes of children’s punishment motivation. Cross-cultural similarities will be demonstrated in young children’s tendencies to inflict punishment for norm violations. Unexpectedly, however, the most recent findings suggest that children punish without enjoying it, and their primary motivation is to deter norm violations, in contrast to the conclusions from much adult work suggesting that adults are primarily motivated by retribution