HAPPY AND UNHAPPY TRANSGRESSORS IN UNDERSTANDING MORAL EMOTIONS IN CHILDREN

Abstract : The happy/unhappy victimizer phenomenon is a key feature in the research of children’s understanding of moral emotions. In this study, we examine the prevalence of such a phenomenon among 64 5-6 and 9-10-year-olds, namely whether the happy victimizer pattern diminishes when, in face of several hypothetical moral transgressions (i.e., pushing another child off a swing, stealing chocolate from another, breaking a promise, and not comforting a needy other), children are asked, not to attribute emotions to a transgressor, but to themselves. The results show that (a) despite the prevalence of the happy victimizer pattern among 5-6 year-olds, there are some who are already capable of attributing emotions in accordance with the unhappy victimizer pattern; (b) despite the prevalence of the unhappy victimizer among 9-10 years, there are some who still expect the wrongdoer to feel good or happy after committing a moral transgression; (c) there is a clear, though not dramatic, developmental change in children’s understanding of moral emotions (i.e., from happy to unhappy victimizers); and (d) to attribute emotions to the self ratter than to others lessens substantially the happy victimizer pattern, this being true mostly in older children. Finally, we discussed these results in the context of both children’s understanding of moral emotions and present-day theories on their moral competence.


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