Strategies of control, aggression, and morality in preschoolers: an evolutionary perspective

J Exp Child Psychol. 2003 Jul;85(3):213-35. doi: 10.1016/s0022-0965(03)00073-0.


Moral reasoning, moral affect, social problem solving skills, and social preferences were assessed in 163 ethnically mixed preschoolers (2.86-5.95 years). Participants were rated by their teachers on prosocial and coercive strategies of control, success at resource control, and aggression (overt and relational). Based on their employment of coercive and prosocial strategies of resource control, the children were categorized as bistrategic controllers, coercive controllers, prosocial controllers, noncontrollers, or typicals. Teacher-rated relational aggression was positively associated with moral maturity in girls. Bistrategic controllers, although aggressive, were morally mature and preferred play partners by their peers. The results are discussed in terms of hypotheses that arise from evolutionary theory which suggests that highly effective resource controllers would be simultaneously aggressive and yet well aware of moral norms. The findings are contrasted with alternative hypotheses that might arise variously from traditional and prevailing approaches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Aggression*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Psychology, Child
  • Self Care*
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Behavior