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date: 18 February 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Much empirical research on human social cognition and its development pertains to questions of how individuals understand their conspecifics in a causal-descriptive sense, that is, how they explain and predict others’ observable (behavioral) and unobservable (mental) states (e.g., epistemic or volitional states). Human social cognition, however, also entails normativity—the sense of right and wrong—in thought and action. This chapter introduces the notion of normativity and reviews developmental research on the early ontogeny of understanding, learning, and applying different types of normative phenomena (focusing on practical norms, e.g., conventional and moral norms). We report evidence that even very young children engage in rational and selective third-party norm enforcement, which suggests that they understand some important features of normativity (e.g., normative force and generality). Thus, from early on, human social cognition is not only concerned with the prediction and explanation of others’ behavior, but also with the prescription and evaluation of others’ actions—a conceptual space of reasons grounded in a psychological space of shared and collective intentionality.

Keywords: social-cognitive development, social norms, normativity, child development, developmental psychology, moral development

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