Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Many factors influence children’s consideration of selfish and prosocial behaviors. For example, previous research has demonstrated that children as young as three and four years old are able to incorporate intention into their judgments of these types of behaviors. The current study examines children’s understanding of selfish and prosocial behaviors that pit the achievement of an actor’s desires against an oppositely valenced outcome for a target child. Of particular interest was whether participants would differentiate between an adult and a child actor committing the same behaviors. Fifty-eight preschoolers and kindergartners aged three years six months to six years eleven months were presented with twelve stories (eight selfish and four prosocial behaviors) and were asked to rate the actors’ emotions and the goodness of their behaviors and to provide justifications for each rating. Results revealed that participants overall judged the actors on the basis of subjective/desire-based factors. That is, they judged the actors as happy after completing selfish behaviors and justified their ratings with statements of the actors’ achievement of their desires. Older children and female participants focused less on subjective/desire-based factors in some situations than younger children and males. Group results did not indicate differentiation between adult and child actors, but there was great individual variation. Implications for children’s understanding of morally relevant behavior are discussed.


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