The Structure of Normative Judgements


Baumeister and colleagues’ 2008 review  of emotion, concludes with the statement that conscious emotion evolved to steer the peoples’ “use of an advanced cognitive apparatus for figuring out how to negotiate their way through the unique, remarkable opportunities and pitfalls of…intricate social and cultural systems” (p. 198). An emphasis on cultural-normative complexities is also emphasized by Damasio and colleagues, who stress the critical importance of emotions to the function of decision making in the context of the “personal, financial and moral” domains (Damasio, 1994) – all areas strongly regulated by social norms and normative standards of ‘appropriate’ or ‘correct’ behaviour.  A key assumption in Carver & Scheier’s (1998) self-regulation model of emotion is that goal directed behaviour is monitored with respect to ‘reference values’ or normative standards of performance  – and these can be assumed to largely depend on consensual definitions or agreements of what is appropriate or correct for task peformance. As the authors observe, “Much of human behaviour is a matter of isolating a point of reference, and then trying to conform to it” (1998, p. 47).

I propose that normative standards regulate human behaviour and are a critical influence  in explicit, goal-directed motivated behaviour and the decision making processes that support it.  Conscious human emotions are highly sensitive to this kind of ‘reference value’ information, and this ability to track normative standards is arguably uniquely human. It may depend on what Tomasello and his colleagues have called a capacity for ‘collective intentionality’ – the ability to understand and participate in cultural activities, with normatively regulating, and self-reflexive, standards and practices (Tomasello &  Rakoczy, 2003).

Experiment 1:  Uncovering the Structure of Normative Evaluations  A Factor Analysis Method

Proposed adaptation of D-Factorization, forced-choice method (Osgood et al., 1957).

Descriptive continua: 26 bi-polar normative evaluative terms (see examples below).

Definition of normative: evaluative, denoting or implying goodness, desirability, what ought to be. lf, pertaining to, or using a norm or standard.

On each test item, subjects are shown three pairs of words – a capitalized pair above, and two pairs below. Participants choose the pair below that goes best with the capitalized words above (keypad ‘1’ or ‘2’). For example, given the following test item the participant is asked to choose one of the second pairs which seems closest in meaning of the first pair in capitals.


(1)  appropriate-inappropriate       (2) praiseworthy-blameworthy

Subjects each do 7800 forced-choice test items over 6-10 sessions, 780-1300 items per session. (Or multiple subjects complete the same dataset.) This is a big study!


The measure of relation between normative word pairs = the percentage of agreement – e.g. the percentage of participants choosing praiseworthy-blameworthy as going with RIGHT-WRONG (and not appropriate-inappropriate) is entered into a 26x26x26 matrix of percentages for all pairings above the diagonal (see below).

This matrix is factored by a 3-D variation of the traditional D-method of factoring. This results in a matrix of coordinates (loadings) for each variable on a set of dimensions (factors) which are orthogonal to each other.

I.              II.             III.

Meaningful-Meaningless                                    0.88        0.05     0.09

Justified-Unjustified                                           -0.33      0.76      0.43


From this matrix data, ‘normative standards’ factors may be extracted, using the D-Factorization Factor Analysis technique.

We can speculate that something like the following normative factors may be extracted.

Good/Praiseworthy – Bad/blameworthy

Correct/Valid – Incorrect/Invalid

Meaningful/Intelligible – Meaningless/Unintelligible

Useful/Effective – Useless/Ineffective

Example Stimuli: Normative Word Pairs

Randomly selected from entire set, matched for frequency/familiarity

A  Meaningful-Meaningless

B. Justified-Unjustified

C. Correct-Incorrect

D. True-False

E. Good-Bad

F. Praiseworthy-Blameworthy

G. Beautiful-Ugly

H. Excellent-Mediocre

I. Fair-Unfair

J. Valid-Invalid

K. Accurate-Inaccurate

L. Important-Unimportant

M. Appropriate-Inappropriate

N. Just-Unjust

O. Signification-Insignificant

P. Worthy-Worthless

Q. Well made – Shoddy

R. Useful-Useless

S. Sound-Unsound

T. Good-Evil

U. Valuable-Worthless

V. Effective-Ineffective

W. Legitimate-Illegitimate

X. Intelligible-Unintelligible

Y. Moral-Immoral

Z. Rational-Irrational


Experiment 2:  Charting the Developmental Timing & Order of Different Dimensions of Normative Understanding

Part 1. Literature Review

Literature review of developmental sequence of understanding of the different evaluative dimensions identified in the factor analysis.

Review the developmental literature for evidence of when competences in understanding these different factors emerges.

Part 2.  Assessments

Develop targeted assessements/tests for competence in comprehension of the the different factors of normative evaluation identified in the factor analysis.

For example, a test or set of tests assessing the child’s understanding of ‘correct’ vs ‘incorrect’ applications rules (as in previous tests by Tomasello’s group).

Part 3. Correlations with other Competencies in Development

Begin to look for correlational relationships between individual differences in acquisition of normative competences and acquisition of other competences (e.g. language ability, theory of mind, social competence).



Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., DeWall, C. N., & Zhang, L. (2007). How Emotion Shapes Behavior: Feedback, Anticipation, and Reflection, Rather Than Direct Causation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 11(2), 167-203.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (1998). On the self-regulation of behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Grosset/Putnam.

Osgood, C.E., Suci, G.J. and Tanenbaum, P. (1957). The Measurement of Meaning University of Illinois Press,
Urbana, IL.

Tomasello, M. & Rakoczy, H. (2003). What makes human cognition unique? From individual to shared to collective intentionality. Mind & Language, 18(2), 121-147.



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