|Abstract:||Prior research indicates that toddlers detect violations when wrongdoers cause unprovoked harm or distribute resources unfairly. How broad are the inferences that toddlers draw about wrongdoers’ moral characters? After seeing a wrongdoer harm a victim, would toddlers still expect the wrongdoer to act fairly toward other protagonists, or would they no longer expect fairness? Across two experiments, we manipulated whether the wrongdoer (a) belonged to the same group as the victim or to a different group and (b) directed one or three harmful actions at the victim.
In the outgroup experiment, 2.5-year-old toddlers were first introduced to puppets; there were three puppets from one group (e.g., rabbits, A1-A3) and one puppet from the other group (e.g., dogs, B1). Next, A1 harmed B1 either one time (e.g., broke B1’s puzzle; 1-harm condition) or three times (e.g., broke B1’s puzzle, tower, and drawing; 3-harm condition). In the test trials, A1 divided toys either equally (fair event) or unequally (unfair event) between A2 and A3. The ingroup experiment was identical except that all puppets belonged to the same group and A4 replaced B1 as the victim.
Toddlers in the 1-harm condition of the outgroup experiment looked significantly longer at the unfair than at the fair event, suggesting that they still expected A1 to act fairly. Toddlers in all other conditions looked equally at the unfair and fair events, suggesting that they no longer expected A1 to act fairly.
Together, these results suggest that toddlers draw broad inferences about wrongdoers’ moral characters, and that these inferences are modulated by group affiliation and harm severity. While minimal harm to the outgroup may be ignored or dismissed, more severe harm to the outgroup, and either minimal or severe harm to the ingroup, induce toddlers to attribute broad deficiencies of moral character extending from harm to unfairness.