Research

Humans are inordinately cooperative beings, and our ultra-cooperative, moral nature is thought to account for our success as a species. The research in our lab focuses on the ontogenetic emergence of the moral emotions, cognitions, and behaviors that make children successful cooperators. This includes the emergence of social emotions such as sympathy and guilt, of moral evaluations, and of moral behaviors such as prosocial behavior and the enforcement of moral norms. Of particular interest are children’s understanding of and responses to third-party moral situations as these are the litmus test for impersonal morality, which may well be unique to humans.

We are also interested in infant social referencing, children’s understanding of others’ desires as an early form of theory of mind, and the development of the negativity bias.

 

Current Studies

Children’s Understanding of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one key to repairing damaged relationships. Research with adults has shown that the act of forgiving and being forgiven is extremely important for sustaining relationships and for our well-being. Yet, we know very little about the ontogenetic emergence of forgiveness. Over a series of studies, we are interested in understanding whether children are more likely to forgive transgressors who show remorse over those that do not, whether children are more likely to forgive their cooperation partners, and whether children value forgiveness as a trait in other people.

For more information or questions concerning this research, please contact Dr. Janine Oostenbroek (jmo3h@virginia.edu).

Exploring Children’s Understanding of Gratitude

The action of “paying it forward” has been a recent focus point in many news stories, but little is known about this behavior in children. We are studying the age children are more likely to engage in this phenomena. In this current study, three- and four-year-old children play a seemingly difficult game to find a key that unlocks a box full of stickers. Some children received a note from the previous player about where the key may be hidden.  Once the box is unlocked the child was given the opportunity to share their stickers. Although gratitude is a complex emotion, this study opens the door for us to investigate how young children may begin to experience and express gratitude.

For more information or questions concerning this study please contact Stefen Beeler (sjb3px@virginia.edu).

Norm Enforcement

Young children are remarkably aware of and motivated to enforce social norms. But they do not react to norm transgressions equally. So how do they pick up which norms are more important than others? To answer this, graduate student N. Meltem Yucel is using an eye tracker and testing how both children and adults perceive rule transgressions.

For more information or questions concerning this study please contact Meltem Yucel (nmy2bg@virginia.edu).

 

Previous Studies

Eye Tracking

In this series of studies we are interested in how adults and children (3- and 5-year-olds) attend to visual stimuli. Further, we are interested in whether this attention pattern is predictive of prosocial behavior. Adults and children will look at a series of objects on a screen and we will use an eye tracker to learn what types of objects people prefer to attend to.

For more information or questions concerning this study please contact Caroline Kelsey (cmk6jm@virginia.edu).

Norm Enforcement

In ongoing work, we are examining why children enforce social norms. One question, for instance, is whether children do so for cooperative reasons, such as to ensure that moral norms are followed or that those who break such norms are reprimanded, or for less cooperative reasons, such as to ensure that they do not themselves get in trouble.

For more information or questions concerning this study please contact Meltem Yucel (nmy2bg@virginia.edu).