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Psicologia: Reflexão e Crítica

Print version ISSN 0102-7972

Abstract

LEITAO, Heliane de Almeida Lins. Gender differences in the development of moral concern for others: an empirical investigation of children’s expressions of moral emotions. Psicol. Reflex. Crit. [online]. 1999, vol.12, n.1, pp. 21-46. ISSN 0102-7972.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0102-79721999000100003.

This study investigated gender and age differences in children’s feelings of guilt and personal responsibility towards other people’s distress. Forty-eight children, aged between seven and eleven years, were randomly recruited from a state school in Kent, England. Children were presented with sets of cartoon stories depicting a variety of open-ended moral dilemmas. They were then asked to recount the story depicted, and to describe the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and motives of the characters portrayed. Children’s responses were analysed and scored in terms of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s theory of persecutory and depressive guilt. It was found that girls gave more depressive guilt responses than boys. Younger boys gave more persecutory guilt and less depressive guilt responses than girls and older boys. Responses indicating concern for the other out of consideration for moral principles increased with age and were more frequent in boys. These results are interpreted as indicating gender differences in children’s expression of moral concern for others. Implications for gender differences in emotional development are discussed.

Keywords : Moral development; gender; moral emotions.

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