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Adolescents' and Young Adults' Understanding of Others' Moral Decisions


This study examined adolescents’ and young adults’ understanding of others’ moral decisions in situations involving competing concerns. The study combines the work of theory-of-mind and social domain theory as it pertains to how people develop a social and moral understanding of others, respectively. The participants (N = 102), approximately equally divided by sex and from two age groups (adolescents and young adults), were posed questions about decisions made in hypothetical situations involving conflicts between a moral concern and a nonmoral concern. For each situation, half of the participants responded to the decision consistent with the moral concern and the other half responded to the decision consistent with the nonmoral concern. Participants were asked to attribute intentions to the actor, evaluate the decision, and provide justifications for their evaluations. Findings showed that participants generally endorsed the decisions consistent with the moral concern for two of the three situations. In addition, partial support was found for the hypotheses that their understanding of each situation would include multiple considerations and be related to the actor’s decision. Findings are discussed in terms of the role of construals in understanding and evaluating moral decisions in multifaceted situations, as well as implications for future research.

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