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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24710

Title: Children's Understanding of Intentional Causation in Moral Reasoning About Harmful Behaviour
Authors: Chiu Loke, Ivy
Advisor: Astington, Janet
Department: Human Development and Applied Psychology
Keywords: theory of mind
moral reasoning
intention understanding
developmental differences
Issue Date: 6-Aug-2010
Abstract: When evaluating a situation that results in harm, it is critical to consider how a person’s prior intention may have been causally responsible for the action that resulted in the harmful outcome. This thesis examined children’s developing understanding of intentional causation in reasoning about harmful outcomes, and the relation between this understanding and mental-state reasoning. Four-, 6-, and 8-year-old children, and adults, were told eight stories in which characters’ actions resulted in harmful outcomes. Story types differed in how the actions that resulted in harm were causally linked to their prior intentions such that: (1) characters wanted to, intended to, and did perform a harmful act; (2) they wanted and intended to perform a harmful act, but instead, accidentally brought about the harmful outcome; (3) they wanted and intended to perform a harmful act, then changed their mind, but accidentally brought about the harmful outcome; (4) they did not want or intend to harm, but accidentally brought about a harmful outcome. Participants were asked to judge the characters’ intentions, make punishment judgments, and justify their responses. Additionally, children were given first- and second-order false-belief tasks, commonly used to assess mental-state reasoning. The results indicated that intention judgment accuracy improved with age. However, all age groups had difficulty evaluating the intention in the deviant causal chain scenario (Searle, 1983), in which the causal link between intention and action was broken but a harmful intention was maintained. Further, the results showed a developmental pattern in children’s punishment judgments based on their understanding of intentional causation, although the adults’ performance did not follow the same pattern. Also, younger children referred to the characters’ intentions less frequently in their justifications of their punishment judgments. The results also revealed a relation between belief-state reasoning and intentional-causation reasoning in scenarios that did not involve, or no longer involved, an intention to harm. Further, reasoning about intentional causation was related to higher-level understanding of mental states. The implications of these findings in clarifying and adding to previous research on the development of understanding of intentional causation and intentions in moral reasoning are discussed.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/24710
Appears in Collections:Doctoral
Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology - Doctoral theses

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