Children's Environmental and Moral Conceptions of Protecting an Endangered Animal
Ruckert, Jolina Helene
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Emerging research suggests that children extend moral regard to the natural world (e.g., forests and waterways). When they do, their moral reasoning is predominately focused on human concerns, wherein the natural world has value insofar as it has value to humans. Biocentrism is the moral view that the natural world has value independent of its value to humans. Previous research has found only about 4% of children employed biocentric reasoning and that there was little evidence that it appeared in children younger than 10-12 years old. The research thus far has largely focused on scenarios where humans cause harm to non-sentient natural entities and ecosystems. The current study is the first to focus on children's moral reasoning in the context of humans harming an animal species. Fifty-two children equally divided across two age groups (7- and 10-years-old, gender balanced) were interviewed regarding their understanding of, and beliefs/values about protecting an endangered animal (the gray wolf); their moral obligatory judgments towards humans harming the animal; and their conceptions of animal rights. Results showed that children as young as seven-years-old extended moral obligations to not harming the wolf. Children as young as seven-years-old endorsed biocentric reasoning, particularly in the form of intrinsic value concerns. Furthermore, there was a developmental shift in biocentric reasoning. Ten-year-olds were more likely to express justice-oriented biocentric reasoning (and did so to a greater degree) than the seven-year-old participants. Still, a substantial number of seven-year-olds endorsed biocentric justice-oriented reasoning. Implications for understanding the construction of moral concerns for the environment are discussed, and applications of these findings and future directions for research are offered.
- Psychology