Preschoolers' and Third Graders' Understanding of the Causal Relations of Emotions and Behaviors in Moral Situations

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This study aimed to determine whether children understand relationships between emotions and later behaviors in moral situations. Japanese preschoolers and third graders listened to stories featuring characters feeling happy or sad after behaving immorally, or after avoiding immoral behaviors using willpower. Two immoral behaviors were used in two studies: pushing a child off a swing and stealing another child's doughnuts. In both studies, participants judged whether characters feeling happiness or sadness in the moral conflict situations would later behave immorally. The stories of Study 1 were presented side-by-side, whereas the stories of Study 2 used forced-choice questions. Children understood the relationships between emotions and behaviors when asked forced-choice questions. However, preschoolers had difficulty explaining their reasoning. Preschoolers correctly answered questions related to negative feelings after deviation rather than positive feelings after avoiding deviation. The findings show that young children have some understanding of the correlation between emotions and later moral behavior, although they have more difficulty understanding positive feelings after avoiding deviation than negative feelings after deviation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-342
Number of pages10
JournalJapanese Psychological Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jul


  • behavior prediction
  • guilt
  • happy victimizer
  • moral emotion attribution
  • pride


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