Children's moral emotions, narratives, and aggression: relations with maternal discipline and support

J Genet Psychol. Sep-Dec 2014;175(5-6):528-46. doi: 10.1080/00221325.2014.982497.


Children who attribute more positive emotions to hypothetical moral victimizers are typically more aggressive and have more behavior problems. Little is known, however, about when individual differences in these moral emotion attributions first emerge or about maternal correlates of these differences. In this study, 63 4-6-year-olds judged how they would feel after victimizing peers for gain and enacted event conclusions using narrative methods adapted from the MacArthur Story Stem Battery. In addition, children's mothers completed assessments of their disciplinary styles and social support, and children's aggressive tendencies were assessed based on ratings from mothers and a second familiar adult. Results revealed that most preschoolers expected to feel happy after their victimizing acts, but variations in happy victimization were unrelated to children's aggression. Several of children's narrative themes, including making amends (e.g., apologizing, reparations), aggressive acts, and mentions of death/killing, however, were related to children's aggression. Moreover, two maternal disciplinary dimensions, higher warmth and reasoning, as well as greater social support were also related to lower child aggression. Children's emotion attributions and moral narratives, however, were unrelated to maternal disciplinary practices or social support.

Keywords: aggression; emotion attributions; maternal discipline; moral narratives.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Narration*
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Social Support