Young children attribute normativity to novel actions without pedagogy or normative language

Developmental Science 14 (3):530-539 (2011)
Young children interpret some acts performed by adults as normatively governed, that is, as capable of being performed either rightly or wrongly. In previous experiments, children have made this interpretation when adults introduced them to novel acts with normative language (e.g. ‘this is the way it goes’), along with pedagogical cues signaling culturally important information, and with social-pragmatic marking that this action is a token of a familiar type. In the current experiment, we exposed children to novel actions with no normative language, and we systematically varied pedagogical and social-pragmatic cues in an attempt to identify which of them, if either, would lead children to normative interpretations. We found that young 3-year-old children inferred normativity without any normative language and without any pedagogical cues. The only cue they used was adult socialpragmatic marking of the action as familiar, as if it were a token of a well-known type (as opposed to performing it, as if inventing it on the spot). These results suggest that – in the absence of explicit normative language – young children interpret adult actions as normatively governed based mainly on the intentionality (perhaps signaling conventionality) with which they are performed.
Keywords normativity  young children  social cognition  social norms  norm enforcement
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