Emotion and the moral lives of adolescents: Vagaries and complexities in the emotional experience of doing harm



Far from being unthinking energies or irrational impulses that control or push people around, emotions are intricately connected to the way people perceive, understand, and think about the world. As such, emotions are also an inextricable part of people's moral lives. As people go about making moral judgments and decisions, they do not merely apply abstract principles in a detached manner. Their emotions—their loves and sympathies, angers and fears, grief and sadness, guilt and shame—are inseparable from how they make sense of and evaluate their own and others' actions, the way things are, and the ways things ought to be. While this is not to say that emotions have a privileged role in morality, it does mean that emotions cannot be reasonably sidelined from the study of people's moral lives. Thus, an important part of formulating a theory of moral development is to articulate a framework for capturing children's relevant emotional experiences in the context of morally laden events. Such a framework should also help us understand how these sometimes turbulent or bewildering experiences inform, enrich, and change children's thinking about what is right and wrong and about themselves as moral agents. This article considers the research on the relation between emotion and moral thinking, offers a perspective that aims to broaden and elaborate our understanding of the connections between emotion and morality in adolescence, and sets a new agenda for research on this topic.