Relations of moral reasoning and vicarious emotion to young children's prosocial behavior toward peers and adults

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Four- and 5-year-old (primarily) Euro-American children (40 girls, 34 boys) participated in a study of moral reasoning, vicarious emotional responding, and prosocial behavior. Children's prosocial behavior and self-reported and facial reactions of vicarious emotion were obtained in response to 2 peer distress films and 2 adult distress simulations. Moral reasoning was assessed with prosocial moral dilemmas. Children's emotional responses were found to be related to analogous types of moral reasoning and were associated in expected ways with helping of peers and adults. Higher levels of moral reasoning were positively related to prosocial behavior. Children high in both other-oriented moral cognitions and sympathy were most helpful toward peers. The pattern of findings suggested that linkages are being formed in the preschool years not only between other-oriented affect and cognitions but also between those that are self-focused in nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-219
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1996


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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