Young children’s protest: what it can tell us about early normative understanding

Johannes Brandl
University of Salzburg
Frank Esken
University of Salzburg
In this paper we address the question how children come to understand normativity through simple forms of social interaction. A recent line of research suggests that even very young children can understand social norms quite independently of any moral context. We focus on a methodological procedure developed by Rakoczy et al., Developmental Psychology, 44, 875–881, that measures children’s protest behaviour when a pre-established constitutive rule has been violated. Children seem to protest when they realize that rule violations are not allowed or should not have happened. We point out that there is more than one possible explanation for children’s reactions in these studies. They could be due to disobeying an authority, an inability to follow a rule, or the violation of an empirical expectation due to the mismatch between statement and action. We thus question whether it would still count as an indicator for normative understanding if children responded to aspects of the game other than the violation of a constitutive rule and conclude that the protesting behavior, when taken in isolation, does not suffice as evidence for normative understanding
Keywords Social cognition  Norm understanding  Development of social norms  Normative protest  Norms and conventions
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DOI 10.1007/s11097-015-9437-8
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