Negativity Bias in Children’s Moral Obligations
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Senior honors thesis / Opt-Out
The negativity bias is pervasive across human cognition; people of all ages and backgrounds are more strongly affected by negative stimuli than positive or neutral ones. Described as “one of the most basic and far-reaching psychological principles” (Baumeister et al., 2001, p. 362), the negativity bias promotes physical survival, facilitates mental illness, and affects cognitive development (Bulman, Sheikh, & Hepp, 2009; Baltazar, Shutts, & Kinzler, 2012; Vaish, Grossman & Woodward, 2008; Williams et al., 2009). With its profound effect on humanity, it is critical to study the negativity bias in all areas where it emerges. One new realm of study for this bias is in the realm of children’s moral cognition; specifically, children’s beliefs about proscriptive (negative) and prescriptive (positive) moral obligations. Proscriptive obligations are inhibition-based, e.g., “do not steal.” Prescriptive obligations are activation-based, e.g., “give charity.” The present study examines how children view these moral obligations. We found that children between the ages of 4 and 6 viewed proscriptive obligations as stronger and more objective than prescriptive obligations, thus displaying a negativity bias. We examined age as a variable, since past research has emphasized the need for a developmental perspective on this topic; we found that the negativity bias was largely found among the older age bracket within our sample
Retter, R. (2021, April). Negativity Bias in Children’s Moral Obligations [Bacherlor's honors thesis, Yeshiva University].