Research Article

Young children’s conceptions of morality in a South African context

Published in: Journal of Psychology in Africa
Volume 31, issue 1, 2021 , pages: 69–75
DOI: 10.1080/14330237.2021.1876995
Author(s): Melanie Y. Martin, South Africa, Nithi Muthukrishna, South Africa, Gugulethu M. Hlatshwayo, South Africa


The aim of the study was to explore children’s conceptions of morality, specifically the meanings children assigned to situations of morality. The participants were eight to eleven-year-old children (n = 8; female = 5, male = 3) who attended a primary school in KwaZulu-Natal. The children completed vignettes depicting moral dilemmas involving the following hypothetical scenarios: scenario 1 = seeking revenge; scenario 2 = breach of a contract. Thematic analysis of the data uncovered three themes: (i) sense of right or wrong; (ii) ethics of care; and (iii) ideas about fairness. Findings reveal that the young children had advanced conceptions of morality and understandings of justice, ethics of care, and notions of fairness. It emerged that their moral reasoning, moral judgements, moral attributions, and moral emotions are intersecting in nature and are underpinned by the African values of Ubuntu.

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