Year: 1993

Author: Bowes, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent years there has been a reawakening of interest in children's development of responsibility. Early researchers in the field were Piaget (1965) and Heider (1958). Piaget investigated children's judgements about the role of intent and extent of damage when children were asked to attribute blame to a fictional child who had committed a wrongdoing. Heider (1958), using similar stories about children's transgressions, produced a developmental sequence of children's attributions of responsibility according to two main aspects of their cognition: intent and foreseeability of consequences. Piaget and Heider's work and the research that followed had in common an emphasis on the cognitive aspects of responsibility and neglected, according to Hamilton (1978, 1992), consideration of role. Hamilton argued that responsibility judgments involve not only consideration of what the child did but also what the child was supposed to do, a proposal that allowed for different degrees of responsibility to be expected from people in different social positions. A school principal, for example, is expected to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong in her school, even if she has not been directly involved. A shift in research approaches to responsibility among social psychologists in the last few years has involved a move away from a primarily cognitive focus to incorporate elements of the social, interactive and contextual qualities associated with judgments about responsibility (Hamilton & Hagiwara, 1992). The emphasis has remained, however, on judgments of degree of responsibility attributed to wrongdoing and the developmental and situational determinants of those judgments. Development of responsibility in children seems to involve more than the ability to attribute blame for wrongdoings. This interpretation of responsibility is based on legal interpretations of responsibility ( eg., Hart, 1968) and legal definitions may not match everyday definitions (Hamilton, 1978). What is the meaning of responsibility that parents use when they justify assignment of household chores to their children in terms of development of responsibility? Teachers say that they give their students homework to develop responsibility. In what sense is responsibility being used in this context? The symposium will not come produce the definitive answer to the question of what the term responsibility means. As Hamilton wrote, "Responsibility is a core concept of social life. Like other core concepts, it is difficult to define adequately and even trickier to study appropriately (1978, p.326). In general terms, what has generated the research work that will be described today is a need to go beyond consideration of children's judgments of liability to consider some of the other meanings of responsibility that we use when we talk about children behaving responsibly and developing responsibility in an everyday, non-legal context. In doing so, we will present some new approaches to the study of responsibility.