african american children's affective attributions and consequences regarding sociomoral events

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  • African American Childrens Affective Attributions andConsequences Regarding Sociomoral Events

    Marisha L. Humphries

    Department of Educational Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago

    Research Findings: This study examined 56 young (prekindergarten through 2nd grade)urban-dwelling African American childrens understanding of the affective attributions and conse-

    quences of 3 types of sociomoral rule systems: prosocial, active, and inhibitive morality. It also

    tested the relationship of affective attributions and consequences to childrens behavior. As expected,

    childrens affective responses differed by sociomoral rule system and character role type, supporting

    the notion of a happy victimizer and a subtle attributional shift. Children provided affective attri-

    butions that attempted to resolve the dilemmas presented in the different sociomoral vignettes regard-

    less of the affect associated with the vignette. The relationship of childrens affective attributions and

    consequences to their behavior in school was partially supported. Childrens affective attributions

    were significantly associated with their prosocial behavior. However, contrary to predictions, no

    other significant associations emerged between childrens affective attributions and negative beha-

    vior or between childrens affective consequences and behavior. Practice or Policy: Those workingwith young African American children should consider the reasoning behind childrens emotional

    and behavioral reactions and not just focus on the correct or appropriate response to understand

    and promote childrens positive development. There are implications for supporting African

    American childrens competence development at school through a behavior promotion approach.

    Childrens social interactions typically occur within emotional contexts (Eisenberg, Fabes,

    Carlo, & Karbon, 1992). A child who is able to successfully analyze and negotiate emotionally

    charged interpersonal interactions and regulate these emotional experiences is said to be

    emotionally competent (Saarni, 1990). Emotional competence includes ones knowledge of

    the affective consequences of interpersonal interactions that center on morally right or wrong

    behavior (e.g., Saarni, 1997) or sociomoral events. These sociomoral events are often emotion-

    ally charged interactions (Arsenio & Lover, 1995). It is necessary for children to develop such

    affective knowledge and skills to help them successfully negotiate emotionally charged socio-

    moral events like sharing, helping, and hitting, events that children experience almost daily with

    siblings and=or with peers in day care and school settings. As a result, emotions play a criticalrole in childrens social functioning (e.g., Eisenberg et al., 1995; Garner, 1996; Halberstadt,

    Denham, & Dunsmore, 2001; Saarni, 1990). There has been great interest in understanding

    Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Marisha L. Humphries, PhD, Educational Psychology

    (MC 147), College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1040 West Harrison Street, Chicago, IL 60607-7133.


    Early Education and Development, 24: 212232

    Copyright # 2013 Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1040-9289 print/1556-6935 online

    DOI: 10.1080/10409289.2011.647610

  • the relationship between affect and sociomoral reasoning and its subsequent impact on or

    relationship with childrens behavior. For instance, social emotional competence and character

    development are said to be critical to childrens prosocial behavior, academic success, cit-

    izenship, and positive classroom environments (Elias, 2009). However, research has largely

    focused on childrens aggressive behavior, with less attention given to exclusively examining

    prosocial or normative development and minority populations.

    Some research with African American children has indicated that these children are unfortu-

    nately more likely to be exposed to conditions that can compromise their emotional and social

    development (Burchinal, Roberts, Zeisel, Hennon, & Hooper, 2006; McLoyd, 1990; Mendez,

    Fantuzzo, & Cicchetti, 2002). However, most African American children from urban and=orlow-income or impoverished backgrounds do not develop emotional and social problems

    (Gabalda, Thompson, & Kaslow, 2010; Garner, 2006). There is a need to understand the norma-

    tive development of African American children who experience challenging situations and con-

    texts (American Psychological Association, 2008) from a within-group design. It is important to

    understand the factors related to positive emotional and social development in order to maximize

    African American childrens optimal development. The present study examined young

    urban-dwelling African American childrens affective attributions and consequences of socio-

    moral events and how this is related to their behavior with peers.


    Hoffman (1983) contended that childrens emotional states and their understanding of their emo-

    tions are an important part in the internalization of moral norms; they are thought to be crucial in

    the developmental of moral knowledge (Wiersma & Laupa, 2000). A moral sense and emotional

    competence are integrated concepts, in that being emotionally competent entails making morally

    correct behavioral choices (Saarni, 1997). Specifically, when emotional skills are separated from

    a moral sensibility, an individual cannot be emotionally competent. Childrens knowledge of the

    emotional or affective consequences of moral transgressions is a part of the situational determi-

    nants of emotions (Nunner-Winkler & Sodian, 1988).

    Sociomoral events or acts refers to social interactions that provide a context for defining whatis morally right or good (Gibbs, Widaman, & Colby, 1982). Intense emotional responses are

    often evoked in those experiencing or witnessing such sociomoral events. These events focus

    on the distribution of resources, social conventions, and victimization (Arsenio, 1988) and in

    the current study are represented by prosocial, active, and inhibitive morality rule systems. Pro-

    social morality is identified as the use of private resources to benefit the outcomes of others

    (Eisenberg, 1982). This includes behaviors like sharing and cooperating. Active morality implies

    intervention on behalf of someone being victimized or witnessing a transgression (Tisak & Ford,

    1986). Behaviors like helping someone who has been treated unfairly and comforting someone

    in distress represent active morality in the current study. Deliberately victimizing others and

    depriving people of their rights is inhibitive morality (Tisak & Ford, 1986). Stealing and hitting

    are examples of inhibitive morality (Tisak & Ford, 1986) that have been studied in other research

    examining harm (e.g., Goldstein, Tisak, & Boxer, 2002; Smetana, Campione-Barr, & Yell,

    2003; Tisak, Nucci, & Jankowski, 1996). These sociomoral behaviors are particularly germane

    to young children because of the prevalence of such behaviors among young children who are


  • learning to navigate their ever-expanding social world. This becomes especially relevant as

    young children begin to attend some form of schooling or out-of-home care.

    Children develop general sociomoral principles by integrating their knowledge about affect-

    ive attributions and consequences from various situations. It has been found that children use

    affective information to infer sociomoral events (Arsenio, 1988). For example, a child who does

    not like how it feels when someone hits her may conclude from her own experiences that her

    friends and other peers will also not like how it feels to be hit by others. This contributes to

    a fairly general moral principle about specific emotions associated with being hit and hitting


    Jagers, Bingham, and Hans (1996) found among a sample of inner-city African American

    kindergartners that not sharing was viewed differently than other moral transgressions. However,

    some research (Nucci & Herman, 1982) has not yielded race differences when comparing nor-

    mal and behaviorally disordered African American and White childrens conceptions of moral,

    social convention, and personal domains. Like Jagers and colleagues, other research with young

    nonAfrican American children (Malti, Gasser, & Buchmann, 2009; Smetana, Schlagman, &

    Adams, 1993) has reported that children were less likely to view not sharing as a moral trans-

    gression compared to hitting or stealing. This finding is surprising given the communal cultural

    orientation associated with the African American community, whereby there is a sense of inde-

    pendence and emotional connection to others. This conception of communalism, which is

    defined and assessed from an Afrocultural worldview, implies an awareness of the fundamental

    interdependence of people with a premium placed on social bonds and obligations (Boykin,

    Jagers, Ellison, & Albury, 1997). Previous research has found a significant relationship between

    communalism and morality from middle childhood through adolescence (Humphries & Jagers,

    2009; Humphries, Parker, & Jagers, 2000; Woods & Jagers, 2003). Furthermore, a communal

    orientation is thought to facilitate empathy (Kuther & Wallace, 2003). Examining the emotional

    expectations asso


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