First Advisor

Cathleen L. Smith

Term of Graduation


Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Systems Science


Systems Science: Psychology




Child development -- Oregon -- Wilsonville, Behavioral assessment of children -- Oregon -- Wilsonville, Early childhood education -- Oregon -- Wilsonville, Developmental psychology -- Oregon -- Wilsonville



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, xiv, 308 pages)


Development of moral sense is a fundamental part of human development and the earliest manifestations of moral sense are of particular interest because it may be important to foster these behaviors early in life. However, despite many important discoveries about these moral sense behaviors over the last several decades, no consensus exists as to how these behaviors emerge and differ as a function of age.

The primary goal of the current research was to explore the development of multiple behaviors that reflect moral sense in very young children, aged 4 to 36 months. More specifically, the goals were: (1) to examine when these behaviors emerge and how they differ as a function of age, and (2) to examine how closely related developments in temperament and behavioral self-regulation (and their interconnections) may shape these differences across the first three years of life.

Thirty-seven children from three classrooms (infants, M = 46 weeks; toddlers, M = 96 weeks; and transitioners, M = 149 weeks) were videotaped over a three-week period. They were observed in three-minute intervals following a random sequence; average length of observation was 91 minutes per child. The setting was a corporate-affiliated child development center of exceptional quality that provided child-centered constructivist curriculum. Using continuous real-time coding, four trained observers coded each interval using an observation system consisting of 19 exhaustive and mutually exclusive categories focused on both prosocial and self-regulatory behaviors. To assess temperament, mothers completed the Children's Behavior Questionnaire (Rothbart, et al., 2001).

Results suggest that both the prosocial and self-regulatory aspects of moral sense are manifest at an early age and that moral sense is influenced by age, temperament, and behavioral self-regulation. How this influence is manifest depends upon the specific moral sense behavior examined.

This study has important implications because it simultaneously examines the impact of several systems of influence on moral sense and does so within a naturalistic context. This study reveals that age, temperament, and behavioral self-regulation all play a role in shaping the earliest manifestations of moral sense and must all be taken into consideration in order to begin to understand its development.


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