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An Event-Related Potential Study of Adolescents' and Young Adults' Judgments of Moral and Social Conventional Violations


  • Support for this research was provided, in part, by grants from NSERC, CFI, and SSHRC. We would like to thank Heather Bragg and Lee Unger for their assistance with data collection.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ayelet Lahat, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, L8S 4K1, Canada. Electronic mail may be sent to


The neurocognitive development of moral and conventional judgments was examined. Event-related potentials were recorded while 24 adolescents (13 years) and 30 young adults (20 years) read scenarios with 1 of 3 endings: moral violations, conventional violations, or neutral acts. Participants judged whether the act was acceptable or unacceptable when a rule was assumed or removed. Across age, reaction times were faster for moral than conventional violations when a rule was assumed. Adolescents had larger N2 amplitudes than adults for moral and neutral, but not conventional, acts. N2 amplitudes were larger when a rule was removed than assumed for moral, but not conventional, violations. These findings suggest that the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying moral and conventional judgments continue to develop beyond early adolescence.