The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak: Developmental differences in judgments about inner moral conflict.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak: Developmental differences in judgments about inner moral conflict. Psychological Science, 27(11), 1498–1506.
Sometimes it is easy to do the right thing. But often, people act morally only after overcoming competing immoral desires. How does learning about someone’s inner moral conflict influence children’s and adults’ moral judgments about that person? Across four studies, we discovered a striking developmental difference: When the outcome is held constant, 3- to 8-year-old children judge someone who does the right thing without experiencing immoral desires to be morally superior to someone who does the right thing through overcoming conflicting desires—but adults have the opposite intuition. This developmental difference also occurs for judgments of immoral actors: Three- to 5-year-olds again prefer the person who is not conflicted, whereas older children and adults judge that someone who struggles with the decision is morally superior. Our findings suggest that children may begin with the view that inner moral conflict is inherently negative, but, with development, come to value the exercise of willpower and self-control.