Young children’s protest: what it can (not) tell us about early normative understanding



Brandl JL, Esken F, Priewasser B & Rafetseder E (2015) Young children’s protest: what it can (not) tell us about early normative understanding. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 14 (4), pp. 719-740.

In this paper we address the question how children come to understand normativity through simple forms of social interaction. A recent line of research suggests that even very young children can understand social norms quite independently of any moral context. We focus on a methodological procedure developed by Rakoczy et al., Developmental Psychology, 44, 875-881, that measures children's protest behaviour when a pre-established constitutive rule has been violated. Children seem to protest when they realize that rule violations are not allowed or should not have happened. We point out that there is more than one possible explanation for children's reactions in these studies. They could be due to disobeying an authority, an inability to follow a rule, or the violation of an empirical expectation due to the mismatch between statement and action. We thus question whether it would still count as an indicator for normative understanding if children responded to aspects of the game other than the violation of a constitutive rule and conclude that the protesting behavior, when taken in isolation, does not suffice as evidence for normative understanding.

Social cognition; Norm understanding; Development of social norms; Normative protest; Norms and conventions

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences: Volume 14, Issue 4

Publication date31/12/2015
Publication date online19/09/2015

People (1)


Dr Eva Rafetseder

Dr Eva Rafetseder

Senior Lecturer, Psychology