Why is it bad to make a Mess? Preschoolers’ conceptions of Pragmatic Norms

A common type of transgression in early childhood involves creating inconvenience, for instance by spilling, playing with breakable objects, or otherwise interfering with others’ activities. Despite the prevalence of such pragmatic transgressions, little is known about children’s conceptions of norms prohibiting these acts. The present study examined whether 3–5-year-olds (N = 58) see pragmatic norms as distinct from first-order moral (welfare and rights of others), prudential (welfare of agent), and social conventional norms. Children judged all four types of transgressions to be wrong. Justifications for pragmatic transgressions focused on inconvenience to the transgressor, inconvenience to others, or material disorder. Children rated pragmatic and conventional transgressions as less serious than moral and prudential transgressions. Latent Class Analysis provided further support for the conclusion that preschoolers see pragmatic norms as a category distinct from first-order moral, prudential, and social conventional norms.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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