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Why are young children particularly prone to make false positive errors or false alarms when identifying a wrongdoer? In three studies the problem was approached using a signal detection analysis, focusing on the moral costs of false alarms, as understood at different points in development. The findings are: (1) decisional criteria became more conservative, indicating fewer false alarms, with age in three studies, (2) children’s beliefs about the seriousness of false alarms and misses changed from (a) a non-moral concern to (b) a moral concern for false negatives or misses to (c) a moral concern for false alarms. (3) These findings were replicated in two demographically different communities. More critically, (4) how the filmed event is framed e.g., as a moral transgression (stealing) or a pro-social (helping) act (Study 1); and as intentional with little damage or unintentional with major damage (Study 3), interacts with age in influencing decisional criteria.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Spring, Toni, Herbert D. Saltzstein, and Roger Peach. "Children's Eyewitness Identification as Implicit Moral Decision-Making." Applied Cognitive Psychology, vol. 27, no. 2, 2013, pp. 139-149, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.



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