Lack of acceptance of reciprocity norms in preschool children

  • Berndt T
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Preschool children's acceptance of the reciprocity norms that allow retaliation and that require returning favors was investigated in two studies. Children were shown cartoons that portrayed reciprocal or nonreciprocal aggressive and prosocial behavior; they were then asked for their evaluation of the actor and their attribution about the cause of his behavior. The first study employed a between-subjects design; the second employed a within-subject design. Although there were some significant differences in attributions for reciprocal and nonreciprocal behavior, there were no significant differences in evaluations. It therefore appears that preschool children do not accept reciprocity norms. Piaget (1932/1965) proposed that the devel-opment of reciprocity norms is a central element in children's shift from a morality of unthinking obedience to adults toward a morality of mutual respect and cooperation between peers. Piaget used children's judgments of retaliation, or reciprocal aggression, as the main measure of acceptance of reciprocity norms. He concluded that their acceptance increased gradually from 6 to 12 years of age. There is also a reciprocity norm for prosocial behavior that requires that people return favors (Gouldner, 1960), but Piaget did not discuss it. Recent research has established that 6-year-olds accept both the aggressive and prosocial reciprocity norms and has suggested that accept-ance of the norms may be equally great from 6 years of age to adulthood (Berndt, 1977; Darley, Klosson, & Zanna, 1978). The data cast some doubt on Piaget's theory, but they may simply indicate that reciprocity norms develop earlier than Piaget expected. A period may still exist, before 6 years of age, during which children fail to accept the norms. To test the hypothesis, two studies were conducted with preschool children. As in past research, evaluations of reciprocal and nonreciprocal behavior were the primary measures of acceptance of the norms. In addition, children's attributions about the cause of an actor's behavior were assessed to determine whether children interpreted recip-rocal and nonreciprocal behavior differently. The first study included 15 girls and 16 boys (M = 56 months; range = 36-68 months). Each Requests for reprints should be sent to Thomas

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  • reciprocal vs non-reciprocal aggressive & prosocial behavior, development of reciprocity norms, preschool children

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  • Thomas J. Berndt

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