Children's Moral Motive Strength and Temperamental Inhibition Reduce Their Immoral Behavior in Real Moral Conflicts


  • The study reported here was conducted as part of the Munich Longitudinal Study on the Genesis of Individual Competencies (LOGIC) funded by the Max Planck Society. We wish to thank the children and parents involved in this study for their cooperation, Beate Sodian and Angelika Weber for their participation in the development of the moral motive measure of the cheating study, the members of the LOGIC group for their assistance in data assessment, Tina Hascher and Yvonne Dechant for coding the videotapes, Merry Bullock for brushing up our English, and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jens B. Asendorpf or Gertrud Nunner-Winkler, Max-Planck-Institut für psychologische Forschung, Leopoldstr. 24, D-8000 München 40, Germany.


This study is concerned with the prediction of interindividual differences in children's immoral behavior in real moral conflicts by moral motive strength (appropriate attribution of moral emotions to story characters), temperamental inhibition, and ego control. Children were tempted to cheat at age 6 when they felt unobserved, or to contend for a scarce resource in peer triads at age 7. Moral motive strength and inhibition, but not ego control, predicted low cheating and low nonverbal rivalry to a similar extent. Extreme group analyses of children low or high in both traits showed that cheating/noncheating could be predicted with a hit rate above 90%. Nonverbal rivalry in a group increased exponentially with the number of low-moral uninhibited children in the group, a finding replicated within the same sample. Discussion focuses on the influence of moral motive strength, temperamental inhibition, ego control, and their interaction on the reduction of immoral behavior.