Children, even before they start talking, evaluate other people's social behaviors based on their prosocial and antisocial actions; however, there is a serious gap in our understanding of the interaction between sociocultural contributions and the biological bases of early social evaluation. Humans have developed and maintained a complex social world. In order to navigate through unique and intricate social relationships, children must evaluate others' social behaviors and translate these evaluations into their own behaviors. Both developmental and neuroscience studies have demonstrated children's predisposition towards the early development of moral sensitivity. While children may have unique abilities to engage in social evaluation in early development, evaluations are also fundamentally shaped by culture through socialization. Cultural investigations have demonstrated that moral values are fundamentally different across cultures. While these separate disciplines have extensively studied moral development, the current theories and models lack to specify how neurophysiological moral development interacts with sociocultural parameters. To address this critical but underexplored aspect of moral development, the current project integrates cultural, developmental, and neuroscientific methods to investigate the role of parental socialization on early neurophysiological moral development across cultures. Specifically, three aims will test 1) cross-cultural differences in neurophysiological responses to social evaluation in preschool years, 2) an intergenerational transmission of moral evaluation across cultures, and 3) the role of parental socialization on neurophysiological moral sensitivity and prosocial behaviors in preschool children. This research program applies a novel approach to studying moral development by integrating sociocultural investigations and neurophysiological methods by using electroencephalographic (EEG) and eye-tracking measurements. While children engage in a moral evaluation task, their EEG waveforms will be measured, and while children engage in the similar task with their parents, continuous EEG waveforms will be measured across cultures. It is predicted that parental socialization modulates children's neurophysiological responses to moral scenarios, which leads to significant cross-cultural differences in moral development. Together, these studies will advance a theoretical understanding of social cognitive development in the domains of moral reasoning, behavior, and social evaluations. The project will involve working with undergraduate students at all stages spanning multiple levels.

Public Health Relevance

How parents pass on their socio-moral values to their children may have long-term consequences on children's moral development and conduct, and lead to cross-cultural differences. Understanding the role of sociocultural environment on the early neural processing of social evaluations and subsequent behaviors is of direct relevance to clinical populations, including children with conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorders, and adults with psychopathy. The results of this research can be translated into better practices in identifying typical and atypical moral development and developing more effective interventions to reduce antisocial behaviors in culturally sensitive manners.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Esposito, Layla E
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University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Green Bay
United States
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