What’s In A Name?: Preschoolers Treat A Bug As A Moral Agent When It Has A Proper Name

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Hailey Luralyn Pister (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site: https://library.appstate.edu/
Robyn Kondrad

Abstract: Children encounter anthropomorphized objects daily: in advertisements, media, and books. Past research suggests that features like eyes or displaying intentional, goal-directed behaviors, increases how humanly non-human agents are perceived. When adults and children anthropomorphize, they become more socially connected and empathetic towards those entities. In advertising, this anthropomorphic effect is used to get people to connect with the product. This thesis explores what effect anthropomorphizing might have on preschoolers’ moral reasoning about those entities, and suggest that it increases the likelihood that children will explain non-human agents’ harmful actions in a moral sense. Specifically, the present study examines the anthropomorphic effect of a proper name on moral reasoning in preschoolers. Four- and 5-year-olds who heard a story about a caterpillar named “Pete” who was killing plants in their garden were more likely than children who heard about a “caterpillar” to think it was appropriate to squish it. We argue that because children believed Pete could experience the world (e.g., emotions) and had agency (e.g., intentional action) more so than an unnamed caterpillar, then Pete could also be held morally accountable for its harmful actions. A proper name has an interesting effect on preschoolers’ moral reasoning about non-human agents.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Pister, H. (2017). What’s In A Name?: Preschoolers Treat A Bug As A Moral Agent When It Has A Proper Name. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Appalachian State University. Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2017
Anthropomorphism, Children, moral reasoning, effect of naming

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