“I Got Some Swords and You're Dead!”: Violent Fantasy, Antisocial Behavior, Friendship, and Moral Sensibility in Young Children



Relations between an early interest in violent fantasy and children's social understanding, antisocial and emotional behavior, and interactions with friends were investigated in 40 “hard-to-manage” preschoolers and 40 control children matched for gender, age, and school and ethnic background. Children were filmed alone in a room with a friend, and tested on a battery of cognitive tests, including false-belief, executive function, and emotion understanding tasks. Teachers reported on their friendship quality. At age 6 years, the children's understanding of the emotional consequences of antisocial and prosocial actions was studied. The hard-to-manage group showed higher rates of violent fantasy; across both groups combined, violent fantasy was related to poor executive control and language ability, frequent antisocial behavior, displays of anger and refusal to help a friend, poor communication and coordination of play, more conflict with a friend, and less empathic moral sensibility 2 years later. The usefulness of a focus on the content of children's pretend play — in particular, violent fantasy — as a window on children's preoccupations is considered.