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Developmental Psychology Developmental Processes in Social · PDF file 2006-12-18 · Developmental Psychology 1977, Vol. 13, No. 6, 654-665 Developmental Processes in Social Inference:

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  • Developmental Psychology 1977, Vol. 13, No. 6, 654-665

    Developmental Processes in Social Inference: Averaging of Intentions and Consequences

    in Moral Judgment

    COLLEEN F. SURBER University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Two experiments tested the applicability of Anderson's relative-weight averaging model to children's judgments based on intentions and consequences. Experiment 1 provided support for the model over a wide age range (kindergarten through adult) using stimuli similar to Piaget's in which the intentions ranged from positive to negative and the consequences ranged from neutral to negative. Experiment 2 extended Experiment 1 by including consequences ranging from positive to nega- tive. In Experiment 2, intentions and consequences interacted suggesting that some modification of the assumptions of the averaging model is necessary to fully account for the data. Data from the two experiments suggest that both intentions and consequences influence judgments at all ages examined and that developmental changes in moral judgments are continuous rather than stagelike. These develop- mental differences can best be described by changes in the weights of intentions and consequences. The major developmental change appears to be a decrease in the weight of consequences with increasing age. The possibility of using algebraic models to describe the results of studies that have attempted to influence the relative importance of intentions and consequences in children's moral judgments is discussed.

    A major issue in studies of children's moral judgment has been the extent to which children of different ages use intention and outcome information in judging another's deeds. Piaget (1965) proposed that children progress from a stage of "moral realism" or objectivity to a stage of "moral subjectiv- ity" between the ages of approximately 5 and 12. According to Piaget, during the

    This research was completed while the author held a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and was supported in part by Grant HD-06864 to Ann L. Brown, Grant HD-05951 to Joseph C. Campione, and U.S. Public Health Service Grant HD-00244from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.

    The author thanks Michael H. Birnbaum and Bob Wyer for helpful advice and encouragement, Steve Stegner and Judy DeLoache for helpful comments on the manuscript, Roberta Jones and Ruth Pearl for assistance in running subjects, and Brad Enna for pro- viding adult subjects.

    Requests for reprints should be addressed to Col- leen Surber, who is now in the Department of Psy- chology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connect- icut 06268.

    stage of moral objectivity children judge deeds primarily in terms of the outcomes or consequences of the deeds. In contrast, a morally subjective child judges a deed primarily in terms of the intentions of the actor and not in terms of the consequences.

    Piaget seems to imply that both intention and consequence information will be used in making moral evaluations, but does not pro- vide a way of representing the relative con- tribution of these cues to moral judgments. Researchers have attempted to use the pro- portion of variance accounted for, the ex- tremity of the evaluative responses pro- duced by outcome and intent information (Parsons, Ruble, Chereskin, Feldman, & Rholes, 1976), or a ratio called the "Inten- tion Judgment Quotient" (Hebble, 1971) to index the relative importance of intentions and consequences in determining moral judgments. As yet, there has been no at- tempt to specify the processes involved in combining intentions and consequences in formulating moral judgments or to relate



    such a theory to developmental change in the influence of intention and consequence information.

    The two experiments reported here rep- resent initial applications of information in- tegration theory (Anderson, 1971; 1974) to children's moral judgments. This approach assumes that each piece of information has a psychological value (a scale value) on the dimension of judgment and that the scale values of the information presented are combined to produce an integrated psycho- logical impression, which is then translated into a response on the experimenter's scale. Theories of the manner in which informa- tion is combined are expressed mathemat- ically, and the relative contribution of each variable is a part of the equation describing the way in which the information is com- bined.

    A particular model of information inte- gration that appears to provide a good ac- count of the manner in which adults com- bine intention and consequence information is the relative-weight averaging model (Lane & Anderson, 1976). For moral judg- ments based on intentions and conse- quences, the averaging model can be writ- ten

    , _ + WCSCJ +

    + WC + (1)

    where Su and scj are the scale values of the /th andjih intentions and consequences re- spectively, and Wi and n>c are the weights of the intentions and consequences. The weights can be considered to be representa- tions of the psychological importance of in- tentions and consequences for the judg- ment. The «/»« is the psychological impres- sion of the /th intention and jth conse- quence combination. The term w0s0 is usu- ally called the "initial impression"—that is, the subject's impression in the absence of any information (or bias toward positive or negative judgments in general). If it is as- sumed that (a) the values of w, and wc re- main constant over all levels of s, and sc, (b) the values of SH and sci are independent of the combinations in which they occur, and (c) that the subject's response, Ry, is linearly related to i//«, then the model pre-

    diets that intentions and consequences will have additive effects on the subject's judg- ments. There should be no interaction of intentions and consequences in an analysis of variance, and the data should plot as a parallel set of curves.

    An additive model for the combination of intentions and consequences also predicts that there should be no interaction of inten- tions and consequences. The additive model,

    i i i f^\

    can be distinguished from the averaging model in Equation 1 by examining judg- ments of stimuli involving only intention information or only consequence informa- tion. The averaging model predicts that the effect of intentions will be greater when there is no consequence information pre- sented, while the additive model predicts that the effect of intentions will be indepen- dent of the effect of the information with which it is combined. If the judgments are plotted as a function of the level of inten- tions , the averaging model predicts that the slope of the judgments of intention-only stimuli should be steeper than the slopes of the judgments of intention-consequence combinations. This follows from Equation 1, since the slope is predicted to be propor- tional to the effective weight of intentions. When intentions and consequences are combined, the effective weight of intentions is, w'i = Wi/(wl + wc + H>0). When only in- tention information is presented, w': = H>I/(W! + w0). An analogous prediction holds for stimuli involving only conse- quence information.

    Experiment 1 tests the averaging model for children's moral judgments with a range of stimuli similar to those used by Piaget (1965). Stories involving intentions ranging from positive to negative and accidental consequences ranging from slightly nega- tive to very negative were rated by children in kindergarten, second, and fifth grades. In addition, stories involving only intention in- formation and only consequence informa- tion were included to test between the addi- tive and averaging models. Experiment 2 extends Experiment 1 by including conse- quences ranging from positive to negative.





    Subjects were 25 kindergarten (14 females, 11 males), 39 second-grade (19 females, 20 males), and 33 fifth-grade (19 females, 14 males) children from a local elementary school who participated with parental permission. All children who obtained parental per- mission were included in the study. One second-grade and one kindergarten subject were discarded because they failed to understand the instructions. In addition, a sample of 9 college students (5 females, 4 males) was also obtained.1 The mean ages of the three groups of elementary school children were 65.5, 89.3, and 127.5 months for kindergarten, second and fifth grades, re- spectively.


    Nine stories were constructed by combining three intentions with three different outcomes. Intentions always preceded the consequences. The three inten- tion sentences were: 1. This little girl wanted to help set the table to make

    her mother happy. 2. This little girl wanted to see what kinds of things

    were on the kitchen shelf. She thought she was allowed to climb up to look on the shelf.

    3. This little girl wanted to get a cookie. Her mother told her that she couldn't have a cookie.

    The three consequences were constructed by entering the appropriate intention ("get out the dishes," "look," or "get a cookie") in the following sentences. 1. She climbed up on the kitchen cupboard to (inten-

    tion), and even though she was careful, she slipped and a dish almost fell off the cupboard and broke.

    2. She climbed up on the kitchen cupboard to (inten- tion), and even though she was careful, she slipped and 2 dishes fell off the cupboard and broke.

    3. She climbed up on the kitchen cupboard to (inten- tion), and even though she was careful, she slipped and 10 dishes fell off the cupboard and broke.

    In additi