Nav: Home

'Don't hit your brother' -- moms are strictest on their infants' moral wrongdoing

October 11, 2016

Research in the journal Frontiers in Psychology shows that mothers typically respond more strongly to any "moral" faults by their infants - that is, which risk hurting other people or pets - than to any other type of misbehavior. Even misbehavior that puts the infant herself, but no-one else, at potentially risk, for example running down the stairs, is generally disciplined less strongly by moms than moral wrongdoing. Conversely, infants are more ready to obey, and less likely to protest against, their mother's prohibitions on moral faults than prohibitions on other types of misbehavior. These results indicate that mothers tend to treat moral wrongdoing as a special, more serious type of misbehavior, regardless of the potential harm.

"Mothers were more insistent on the moral prohibition against harming others than prohibitions against doing something dangerous or creating mess or inconvenience, as shown by their greater use of physical interventions and direct commands in response to moral transgressions," says the author Audun Dahl, Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Dahl and coworkers observed interactions between 26 mothers, their 14-month infant girls or boys, and an older sibling below 8 years of age during 2.5-hour-long home visits, and repeated the visits 5 and 10 months later. Mothers were told to behave naturally, as the purpose was to study the everyday experience of infants. The observers scored each instance of infant naughty behavior, distinguishing between moral, "prudential" (dangerous to the infant herself, but to no-one else) and "pragmatic" faults (i.e. creating mess or inconvenience, but not harmful to the infant or anyone else). They also scored the mother's response to each behavior, for example physical restraint; commands; distracting the infant from the unwanted behavior; softening, such as saying "I know you want to play with my phone" to acknowledge the infant's wish, comforting him or her, or using of terms of endearment; compromising on an earlier prohibition; or explaining why the infant's behavior was wrong. Other variables were the infant's response, for example compliance with their mother's instructions, protest, or expressing negative emotions, and the seriousness of the actual or potential consequences of the behavior.

The results show that mothers consistently respond with high-intensity interventions such as physical restraint and commands, and not with gentler interventions, whenever their infants showed moral misbehavior. In contrast, mothers were more likely respond to pragmatic or prudential transgressions with low-intensity interventions, especially distraction, softening or compromising. Furthermore, infants were significantly more likely to comply immediately with their mother's commands when their original transgression had been moral, and less likely to protest verbally. Importantly, the greater insistence of mothers on moral rules couldn't be attributed to moral transgressions having more severe potential consequences, since the observed prudential misbehaviors was on average more harmful - for example, putting the infant at risk of falling or choking.

Dahl concludes that mothers tend to treat the moral imperative to avoid harm to others as fundamentally different -- more important to communicate and less open to negotiation -- from prudential and pragmatic rules.

"Through their more insistent interventions on moral misbehavior, mothers appear to help their children make this distinction as well," says Dahl. "Still, how parents react to misbehaviors is only one of many factors in early moral development. So an important question for future research is how precisely young children make use of their mother's reactions, along with other experiences, to gradually develop their own notions of right and wrong," says Dahl.
-end-


Frontiers

Related Behavior Articles:

Is Instagram behavior motivated by a desire to belong?
Does a desire to belong and perceived social support drive a person's frequency of Instagram use?
A 3D view of climatic behavior at the third pole
Research across several areas of the 'Third Pole' -- the high-mountain region centered on the Tibetan Plateau -- shows a seasonal cycle in how near-surface temperature changes with elevation.
Witnessing uncivil behavior
When people witness poor customer service, a manager's intervention can help reduce hostility toward the company or brand, according to WSU research.
Whole-brain imaging of mice during behavior
In a study published in Neuron, Emilie Macé from Botond Roska's group and collaborators demonstrate how functional ultrasound imaging can yield high-resolution, brain-wide activity maps of mice for specific behaviors.
Swarmlike collective behavior in bicycling
Nature is full of examples of large-scale collective behavior; humans also exhibit this behavior, most notably in pelotons, the mass of riders in bicycle races.
My counterpart determines my behavior
Whether individuals grow up in a working-class environment or in an academic household, they take on behaviors that are typical for their class -- so goes the hypothesis.
A gene required for addictive behavior
Cocaine can have a devastating effect on people. It directly stimulates the brain's reward center, and, more importantly, induces long-term changes to the reward circuitry that are responsible for addictive behaviors.
Supercomputing the emergence of material behavior
Chemists at the University of California, San Diego designed the first artificial protein assembly (C98RhuA) whose conformational dynamics can be chemically and mechanically toggled.
The neural circuitry of parental behavior
HHMI scientists have deconstructed the brain circuits that control parenting behavior in mice, and identified discrete sets of cells that control actions, motivations, and hormonal changes involved in nurturing young animals.
Parenting behavior in adoptive families
A new longitudinal study of adoptive families looked at whether symptoms of depression in adoptive fathers is also related to over-reactive parenting and behavior problems in children; the study also examined how social support networks affect parenting.
More Behavior News and Behavior Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.