Good and Evil, Reward and Punishment

Mentor: Dr. Jessica Sommerville

Dr. Jessica Sommerville

Project Description

Even babies possess moral tendencies: infants will help others achieve their goals, and evaluate others based on whether they are helpful or harmful. At the same time, we know that these early moral sensitivities likely differ from more mature moral responses in fundamental ways. The question is, how?

The broader goal of this project is to understand when children begin to use reward and punishment in response to others’ moral and immoral behavior. Recent work shows that before the age of two infants will reward those that engage in moral acts; at the same time, the tendency to punish others for moral transgression appears to await the preschool years. Why?

One hypothesis is that parents may differ in terms of the degree to which they expose young children to punishment, with Canadian and US parents stressing reward over punishment. Your role in this project will be to test this hypothesis. With feedback from the lab, you will design and implement an online survey to investigate within-culture and cross-cultural variability in parents’ use of reward and punishment with children, analyze the results, and present this work to the lab and beyond. This research will help us to understand why reward precedes punishment in early childhood, and whether this is likely a universal trend or a culturally bound phenomena. Through this project you will gain skills in hypothesis development, survey design and administration, advanced statistics, and open science practices.

Mentorship Statement

For me, mentorship is about partnership: how can you and I work together to best support your learning, development, and growth? Mentorship in my lab involves weekly lab meetings, individual weekly meetings with lab graduate students, and meetings with me once every two weeks. Thus, your development is facilitated by a “network” of different individuals. Your training will include participant recruitment, survey design and administration, data processing and analysis, and dissemination. You will have the opportunity to present your project results at an end of summer lab research fair via a powerpoint presentation or scientific poster. You may also have the opportunity to be an author on a journal article.

I was motivated to get involved with SROP because I love working with students and I am aware of how important these early experiences are for getting started in the field.

I look forward to working with you!

Project ID 739