How do infants and toddlers evaluate moral character? Are they limited to valuing better actions over worse actions, or are they also capable of richer evaluations? The proposed research seeks to reveal hitherto unsuspected competencies in early evaluations of moral character. Six projects will examine (using choice, picture-book, and violation-of-expectation tasks) whether infants and toddlers can appreciate virtuous individuals who go beyond what is expected and demonstrate virtues such as compassion (Projects 1-2), compassionate justice (Projects 3-4), and generosity (Projects 5-6). In each project, children will see two individuals who produce the same positive action toward the same protagonist. For one individual, this action will be obligatory (as dictated by the principle of ingroup support, authority, or reciprocity); for the other individual, this action will be optional. Of interest is whether children prefer and expect others to prefer the second individual, who is acting out of kindness, over the first individual, who may be acting solely out of duty. Such evidence would provide the first experimental demonstration that infants and toddlers already possess intuitions about virtuous individuals who go beyond what is expected. Two other projects will examine (using violation-of-expectation tasks) what inferences toddlers draw about the moral characters of immoral individuals (Project 7) and irrational individuals (Project 8). Together, these eight projects (which should yield about 9 publications) will provide important new insights into early evaluations of moral character and into the sociomoral-reasoning and psychological-reasoning capacities that make possible these evaluations. Our findings should also have implications for efforts to foster moral character development: If rich intuitions about excellences and deficiencies of character emerge early in life, then pedagogical efforts that capitalize on these intuitions should be more effective.
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