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2015 Abstracts

Children’s and Adolescents’ Moral Development and Self-Event Connections in Accounts of Harm

Kara Henrie, Stacia Bourne, and Cecilia Wainryb, University of Utah

Social and Behavioral Sciences

People draw conclusions about themselves from personal experiences; these are self-event connections (McLean, Pasupathi, and Pals, 2007). Little is known about children’s and adolescent’s self-event connections. The present study examined the types of connections 5-, 10-, and 16-year-olds formed in accounts of two types of moral transgressions: those in which they thought “it was my fault” and those which they thought “it was not my fault.” We hypothesized that connections made with “it is my fault” events would be more negative than those made with “it is not my fault” events and that children and adolescents would form self-event connections that differed with age. We expected 5- and 10-year olds would form morally relevant connections proportionately more often than 16-year-olds, and we expected the 16-year-olds would form proportionately more connections that described a stable sense of self. Forty children in each age group provided two narrative accounts of doing harm: an “it was my fault” experience, and an “it was not my fault” experience. Following these accounts, participants were prompted to construct a self-event connection. Types of self-event connections were coded as follows: (a) temporal scope: back then, now/across time, or going forward; (b) valence: negative or non-negative (e.g., “I am a bad person,” “I am friendly”); (c) relevance: moral or non-moral (e.g., “I am caring,” “I am forgetful”); and (d) generality: general or contextual. Preliminary results indicate that all age groups make negative connections equally frequently and make morally relevant and negative connections more often in “my fault” than in “not my fault” transgressive experiences. Sixteen-year-olds make connections describing the self as continuous across time more often than the other age groups. Finally, 5-year-olds are more likely to make no self-event connections and make connections that are morally relevant.