The self as a moral agent: Preschoolers behave morally but believe in the freedom to do otherwise

Journal of Cognition and Development 15 (3):453-464 (2014)

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Abstract
Recent work suggests a strong connection between intuitions regarding our own free will and our moral behavior. We investigate the origins of this link by asking whether preschool-aged children construe their own moral actions as freely chosen. We gave children the option to make three moral/social choices (avoiding harm to another, following a rule, and following peer behavior) and then asked them to retrospect as to whether they were free to have done otherwise. When given the choice to act (either morally or immorally), children avoided harm and abided by rules, but they endorsed their freedom to have done otherwise. When choice was restricted by adult instruction, children did not endorse their free choice and indicated feeling constrained by moral obligation in their explanatory responses. These results suggest that children believe that their moral actions afford free will, but this belief is dependent on their experience of choice.
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