Children's Conceptions Of Disordered Behavior

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Child Development


3 vignettes describing characters who exhibited disordered (antisocial, withdrawn, or self-punitive) behavior were read to second-, fourth-, and sixth-grade children. The children were asked what caused the behaviors, whether characters wanted to behave as they did, and whether and how characters could change their behavior. Older children attributed disordered behavior to social-environmental causes more frequently than did younger children. In addition, older children were more likely to believe that behavior can be changed by changing the social environment. The antisocial character was viewed as wanting to act as he or she did by more children of all ages than was either the self-punitive or the withdrawn character. In a second task, children rated the characters on several bipolar adjective dimensions. Differences among the 3 characters emerged, particularly in the ratings carried out by the older children. The findings are discussed in light of previous work on the development of social cognition.

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