Processes of attribution and children's self-punishment following misbehavior

David G. Perry, Louise C. Perry, Kay Bussey, David English, Gail Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To explore some attributional determinants of children's self-punishment following transgression in a moral situation, third and fourth graders initially either did or did not hear an adult directly attribute prosocial attributes to them. Subsequently, the children were induced to break a prohibition. Following their deviation, children were told that other children deviated too (high consensus), that other children had not deviated (low consensus), or received no consensus information. They then were asked to punish themselves for deviating by relinquishing valuable tokens. Children who had received verbal attributions of goodness and received low-consensus information about their deviation punished themselves substantially more than children in any other condition. Results were interpreted as supporting the hypothesis that children who are told by adults that they possess desirable moral characteristics experience particularly strong remorse when they fail to exercise self-control in temptation situations, so long as they cannot attribute their deviation to something in the environment and thereby abdicate responsibility for their lack of moral conduct. The relevance of attribution theory to understanding the development of children's self-reactions was stressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)545-551
Number of pages7
JournalChild Development
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1980
Externally publishedYes


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