Conversation, Development, and Gender: A Study of Changes in Children’s Concepts of Punishment


  • Part of this research was conducted to fulfill the requirements of the second author’s master’s thesis at Linköping University, Sweden. We are grateful to the schools, pupils, and staff who helped make the study a success. We also thank Sophie Purnell for her assistance in collecting the data, and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback on an earlier version of this manuscript. The research reported here was supported by a British Academy Senior Research Fellowship to the first author.

concerning this article should be addressed to Patrick J. Leman, Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, United Kingdom. Electronic mail may be sent to


One hundred thirty-three children, average age 9.58 years, were read vignettes describing a moral transgression and then discussed what would constitute a fair punishment. Children’s gender influenced conversation dynamics (use of interruption and other simultaneous speech) but not conversation content (justifications for judgments). All children who engaged in conversation showed development in judgments after 8 weeks compared with a control (no interaction) group. However, there was no relation between conversation dynamics or content and development, or any effects of gender, on the developmental process. The benefits of peer collaboration were general rather than specific to the stimulus story.