Explaining the moral of the story

Caren M. Walker, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

Although storybooks are often used as pedagogical tools for conveying moral lessons to children, the ability to spontaneously extract “the moral” of a story develops relatively late. Instead, children tend to represent stories at a concrete level – one that highlights surface features and understates more abstract themes. Here we examine the role of explanation in 5- and 6-year-old children's developing ability to learn the moral of a story. Two experiments demonstrate that, relative to a control condition, prompts to explain aspects of a story facilitate children's ability to override salient surface features, abstract the underlying moral, and generalize that moral to novel contexts. In some cases, generating an explanation is more effective than being explicitly told the moral of the story, as in a more traditional pedagogical exchange. These findings have implications for moral comprehension, the role of explanation in learning, and the development of abstract reasoning in early childhood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)266-281
Number of pages16
JournalCognition
Volume167
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

Keywords

  • Abstraction
  • Cognitive development
  • Explanation
  • Moral reasoning
  • Narrative comprehension

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