Factors Influencing Young Children's Use of Motives and Outcomes as Moral Criteria - Nelson, S.A. (1980)


To determine the conditions under which the moral judgments of 3-4 year old children would reflect their consideration and use of motives as well as outcomes.


  • 60 preschool aged children aged 3-4 (mean: 3 years, 4 months)
  • 30 second grade students aged 6-8 (mean: 7 years, 4 months)
  • All White, Middle Class, Urban Area, With Parental Consent
  • Even number of Female & Male participants
  • Research Method

    The research method used in this study was a Lab experiment.


    Children were told 4 stories (with pictures):

  • Good Motive, Good Outcome
  • Good Motive Bad Outcome
  • Bad Motive, Good Outcome
  • Bad Motive, Bad Outcome
  • Children were interviewed individually and shown how to use the scale (given an example)
  • Children Rated ‘Goodness’ on Scale
  • Children were asked to repeat the story

  • Explicit motive, bad outcome condition from study 1. "This boy was playing with a ball; he was very mad at his friend that day. He wanted to throw the ball at his friend so he could hit him on purpose. The boy threw the ball. His friend did not catch the ball; the ball hit his friend on the head and made him cry."


    In Verbal Condition, children rated on motive.


  • Interviewers demonstrated how to use the scale (bias?)
  • Sample was not diverse (generalization?)

  • Ecological Validity

    Very High Ecological Validity. The study was very realistic and did simulate a possible real life situation.


    Any negative cue, may lead to a negative judgement.


    Scale was child friendly and easy to understand



    Nelson, S.A. (1980)

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