|dc.description.abstract||The ability to evaluate others’ behavior in terms of the intentions that guide it is
a key development in children’s understanding of personal responsibility (Piaget,
1932/1965). According to Piaget, young children attribute responsibility on the basis of
the objective effects of behavior because they are not able to understand the reasons for
rules that define permitted and prohibited behaviors. In contrast, older children and
adults attribute responsibility on the basis of the actor’s subjective intentions. This
ability reflects children’s developing understanding that rules represent the rule-maker’s
anticipation of potential effects of the behavior for the individual and the social group.
Thus, the developmental shift from objective to subjective concepts of responsibility, as
seen in children’s evaluations of behavior, marks underlying development in children’s
understanding of the ontology and purpose of rules, as well as in children’s ability to
use rules to guide their own behavior.
Several types of intention information may be used to attribute responsibility.
These can include whether a specific outcome was intended, the actors’ motives for
acting, and their knowledge about potential outcomes of their actions. Research on
children’s evaluations of behavior has been guided by two theories, Piaget’s
(1932/1965) and Heider’s (1958), that emphasize different aspects of intentionality as
central to mature concepts of subjective responsibility. On the basis of a review of
research guided by each of these theories, this paper argues that understanding of
foreseeability as basis for attributing responsibility for beliefs is central to a subjective
concept of responsibility.
Two experiments exploring development in children’s understanding of
responsibility for foreseeable outcomes are described. In Experiment 1, 5-year-olds, 6-
and 7-year-olds and adults used foreseeability to attribute responsibility for unintended
outcomes. In Experiment 2, although 6- to 12-year-olds and adults all used
foreseeability to attribute responsibility for unintended outcomes, only 12-year-olds and
adults consistently used foreseeability to attribute responsibility for false beliefs. Using
foreseeability to attribute responsibility for beliefs was related, independently of age, to
greater use of foreseeability in attributing responsibility for outcomes. Results are
discussed in terms of developments in understanding of relations among evidence,
beliefs and responsibility for behavior.||