The influence of negligence, intention, and outcome on children’s moral judgments

Gavin Nobes, Georgia Panagiotaki, Chris Pawson

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review


Piaget (1932) and subsequent researchers have reported that young children’s moral judgments are based more on the outcomes of actions than on the agents’ intentions. The current study investigated whether negligence might also influence these judgments and explain children’s apparent focus on outcome. Children (3–8years of age) and adults (N=139) rated accidental actions in which the valences of intention, negligence, and outcome were varied systematically. Participants of all ages were influenced primarily by intention, and well-intentioned actions were also evaluated according to negligence and outcome. Only two young children based their judgments solely on outcome. It is suggested that previous studies have underestimated children’s use of intention because outcome and negligence have been confounded. Negative consequences are considered to be important because children assume that they are caused by negligence. The findings indicate that young children can show sophisticated understanding of the roles of intention and negligence in moral judgments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-397
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Moral development
  • Intention
  • Outcome
  • Consequence
  • Negligence
  • Moral judgment


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