False Belief Understanding and Moral Judgment in Young Children
Although the influence of intent understanding on children’s moral development has been long studied, little research has examined the influence of belief understanding on that development. In two studies we presented children with morally-relevant belief vignettes to examine the extent to which they incorporate both intent and belief information in their moral judgments. In Study 1 (N = 64), 5-year-old false belief (FB) passers rated agents with false beliefs as more positively intentioned in good intent trials (even though the outcome was bad) than in bad intent trials (even though the outcome was good). In contrast, 4-year-old FB passers were generally unable to integrate their belief understanding with their moral evaluations, performing no better on intention questions than FB failers. Neither age group significantly differentiated rewards and punishments as a function of intent when a false belief was involved. In Study 2 (N = 109 children, N = 42 adults), we found that by simplifying our study design and reducing the task demands, 4-year-old FB passers’ were able to make appropriate intent judgments. Yet, as in Study 1, all children had difficulty assigning punishment/rewards based on intent. For both moral intentions and moral consequences, 4- and 5-year-old false belief passers’ moral judgments differed from those of adults in several respects, indicating that moral reasoning develops substantially beyond the preschool years.