Children's use of moral behavior in selective trust: discrimination versus learning.

Sabine Doebel, Melissa A. Koenig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Does valence play a role in children's sensitivity to and use of moral information in the service of selective learning? In the present experiment, we explored this question by presenting 3- to 5-year-old children with informants who behaved in ways consistent or inconsistent with sociomoral norms, such as helping a peer retrieve a toy or deliberately tearing a peer's artwork. "Good" versus "bad" informants were contrasted with putatively neutral-behaving informants. In an effort to specify the role that moral information plays in guiding children's selective trust, we measured children's ability to discriminate the informants as well as their willingness to learn from them. We found that children were significantly more likely to discriminate negatively behaving agents from neutral ones than they were to discriminate positively behaving agents from neutral ones. In contrast, children did not differ in the degree to which they used negative versus positive moral information in their selective learning; both types of information were used to guide trust across domains of knowledge. Results are discussed in terms of the positive-negative asymmetry observed and the different forms that a negativity bias might take.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)462-469
Number of pages8
JournalUnknown Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


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