First among equals in the mind of a child

Photo by Flickr user (stephan). Click for sourceScience News has a fascinating article on research suggesting that the desire for autonomy is a universal feature of human psychology that can be seen in children around the world and is not something solely prominent in Western children.

The stereotype is that Western society is individualistic and Eastern is collectivist, but as we’ve discussed before, this broad stereotype often doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Not without some scepticism, this new research suggests that children begin to develop concepts of autonomy from about the age of 10, regardless of which culture they grow up in.

[Psychologist Charles Helwig of the University of Toronto says] his new findings support the idea that universal concerns among children — such as a need to feel in control of one’s behavior and disapproval of harming others — shape moral development far more than cultural values do.

“It’s remarkable how little cultural variation we have found in developmental patterns of moral reasoning,” says Helwig, who presented his results in Park City, Utah, at the recent annual meeting of the Jean Piaget Society.

Helwig and like-minded researchers don’t assume that kids’ universal responses spring from a biologically innate moral-reasoning capacity. Instead, they say, children gradually devise ways of evaluating core family relationships in different situations. Kids judge the fairness and effectiveness of their parents’ approaches to punishing misbehavior, for example. These kinds of relationship issues are much the same across all cultures, from Helwig’s perspective.

Link to Science News article ‘Morality Play’.

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