Moral Development

What is Morality?

     Morality refers to a general set of standards about right and wrong and encompasses such traits as honesty, compassion, and respect for other people’s rights and needs

Social Conventions

     Societies rules and conventions regarding acceptable and unacceptable behaviors


Focus on Socialization

     Emphasis on nurture (vs. nature)

     The process is universal, as are many of the techniques used to socialize children

     Children’s increasing conformity to society’s standards for behavior is presumed to be predominantly quantitative in nature

Focus on Cognition

     Specific experiences influence the views of morality that children construct, and their ability to think abstractly about moral dev’t depends on their cognitive dev’t

     General sequence presumed to be universal

     Children and adolescents progress                 through a series of qualitatively             different stages in moral                                 reasoning

Focus on Emotions

     Emotions have a biological basis, but associating them with moral actions is determined by experience and learning

     Emotions associated with moral behavior are universal, but feelings about the various behaviors differ

     Emotions (shame, guilt, & empathy) show a quantitative change in the             early years, empathy however,                  also shows a qualitative change

Combining These Focuses

     Developmentalists are combining both cognition and emotion in their explanations of moral development and behavior

     All three explanations are useful in some way for explaining moral development

Psychoanalytic Perspective

     Freud places burden on parents.

    Moral development complete by 5 to 6 


     Children whose parents use threats or physical force

    Show little guilt after harming others

    Show poor self-control

Psychoanalytic Perspective, Con’t


    Effects of misbehavior are communicated to the child.

    Encourages empathy and prosocial behavior

Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory

     Imitate models who demonstrate appropriate behavior

     More likely to copy prosocial actions of person if:

    Consistent between assertions and behavior




Cognitive-Developmental Perspective

     Children actively think about social rules.

     React to violations of moral rules more than social conventions

     Understand moral rules because they protect people's rights and welfare

     Preschoolers who are disliked by                  peers due to aggression show                difficulties with moral reasoning.



     By 2, act with alarm to aggression

     At first morality is externally controlled

     Children begin using internal standards to evaluate behavior at a very early age

     Later they are regulated by inner standards


     Moral individuals have principles that they follow in a variety of situations

     Children increasingly distinguish between moral transgressions and conventional transgressions


Early to Middle Childhood

     Emotions related to moral behavior are beginning to develop

    Children begin to show guilt as early as 22 months of age

    By middle elementary school many occasionally feel shame


Early to Middle Childhood

     Children’s understanding of fairness is evolving

    Preschoolers judge what is fair on their own needs and desires, early elementary students base what is fair on strict equality

    As children get older they begin to take merit and special needs into account

Early to Middle Childhood

     Learning about Justice through Sharing

    Distributive justice

    Beliefs about how to divide resources fairly

     Damon studied ideas of distributive justice.

    5 to 6 years:            Equality

    6 to 7 years:            Merit & special needs      

    Around age 8:          Benevolence


     Children increasingly take in to account the circumstances of an event when evaluating their behavior

Changes in Moral Understanding

     As ideas of justice advance, linkage created between moral rules and social conventions.

     Diverse cultures use same criteria to distinguish moral and social conventions.

     Children identify a domain of personal matters.

    Fosters concepts of personal rights and                freedom


     Justified when immediate obedience is necessary

    Long term: Warmth and reasoning better

     Punishment promotes momentary compliance.

Harsh Punishment

     Provides model of aggression

     Teaches to avoid the punishing adult

     Offers relief to adults, who are then reinforced for using coercive discipline

Alternatives to Harsh Punishment

     Time out

    Removal from setting until ready to act appropriately

     Withdrawal of privileges

     Encourage and reward good conduct

Alternatives to Harsh Punishment

     Effectiveness of punishment is increased when

    Used consistently

    In a warm parent-child relationship

    Accompanied by an explanation



Level 1: Preconventional Morality

     Stage 1: Punishment-Avoidance and Obedience

     Make decisions based on what is best for themselves

     Obey only the rules established by powerful individuals

     “Wrong” behaviors are only those that are punished

Level 1: Preconventional Morality

     Stage 2: Exchange of Favors

     People begin to recognize that others also have needs

     May try to satisfy others’ needs if their own are met

     Continue to define right and wrong by behaviors that are punished

Level II: Conventional Morality – Stage

     Stage 3: Good Boy/Good Girl

     Decisions made on what actions will please others (esp. authority figures)

     Concerned about maintaining interpersonal relationships

     Take other people’s perspectives and intentions into account when making                 decisions


Level II: Conventional Morality – Stage

     Stage 4: Law and Order

     Look to society as a whole for right/wrong guidelines

     Know the rules necessary for keeping society running smoothly

     Perceive rules as inflexible

Level III: Postconventional Morality

     Stage 5: Social Contract

     Recognize rules as an agreement between many people about appropriate behavior

     Rules are no longer absolute dictates that must be obeyed


Level III: Postconventional Morality

     Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle

     Adherence to a few abstract, universal principles that transcend specific norms and rules for behavior

Factors Influencing Progression

     Postconventional morality cannot occur until an individual has acquired formal operational thought

     Conventional and postconventional moral reasoning usually doesn’t occur until adolescence

     Disequilibrium helps move an                               individual from one stage to                  another

Research on Kohlberg’s Theory Tells Us

     His theory confuses the moral and social-conventional domains

     Most children are more advanced than he thought

     He focuses on moral thinking rather than moral behavior

     May not be as stage-like as Kohlberg    believed

Factors Affecting Moral Development

     Use of Reasons

     Interactions With Peers

     Models of Moral and Prosocial Behavior

     Moral Issues and Dilemmas


Diversity in Moral Development

     Gender Differences

    Gilligan suggests that Kohlberg does not adequately describe female moral development cultural differences

     Cultural Differences

    Different cultural groups have different standards about what constitutes right and wrong behaviors


Promoting Moral Development

     Clarify which behaviors are acceptable and which are not

     Expose children to numerous models of moral behavior

     Engage children in discussions about social and moral issues

     Challenge children’s moral reasoning

     Expose children to diverse viewpoints about          moral issues


Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective Faith

     18-24 months to 7 years

     Children form powerful, imaginative, often terrifying, and sometimes lasting images of God, heaven, and hell, drawn from stories

     They have difficulty distinguishing God’s point of view from their own or        their parents’

Stage 2: Mythic-Literal Faith

     Ages 7 – 12 years

     They tend to take religious stories and symbols literally

     They can now see God as having a perspective beyond their own

     They believe God is fair and people get what they deserve

Stage 3: Synthetic-Conventional Faith

     Adolescence or beyond

     Begin to form ideologies  and commitments to ideals

     Their faith is unquestioning and conforms to community standards

     About 50% of adults never move beyond this stage

Stage 4: Individuative-Reflective Faith

     Early to middle twenties or beyond

     Examine their faith critically and think about their own beliefs, independent of external authority and group norms

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith

     Midlife or beyond

     Recognize life’s paradoxes and contradictions, and they often struggle with conflicts between fulfilling their own needs and sacrificing for others

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith

     Late life

     Consumed with a sense of “participation in a power that unifies and transforms the world”

     They threaten the established order, they often become martyrs, and though they love life they do not cling to it

     Includes Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther              King, and Mother Theresa

Fowler’s Critics Say…

     His concept of faith is at odds with conventional definitions, which involve acceptance, not introspection

     They challenge his emphasis on cognitive knowledge and claim that he underestimates the maturity of simple, solid, unquestioning faith


Fowler’s Critics Say…

     His sample was not randomly selected – they may be more representative of above average intelligence and education

     It was not representative of nonwestern cultures

     He may overlook the adaptive value of conventional religious beliefs for           many older adults

Real-Life vs. Hypothetical Dilemmas

     Real-Life Dilemmas frequently differed from hypothetical

     Hypothetical dilemmas elicited a slightly higher level of moral reasoning than real-life dilemmas

     This supports Kohlberg’s claim that standard hypothetical dilemmas are      good for capturing an individual's          best level of moral reasoning

Real-Life vs. Hypothetical Dilemmas, Con’t

     Gilligan – She holds that Kohlberg’s theory is biased against women

     No sex differences were found in stage of moral reasoning development

     The findings fail to support the notion that Kohlberg’s theory was biased against female response

Developmental Differences in Guilt

     Guilt over transgression is the type of situation most frequently mentioned as guilt producing by students at all grade levels

     Guilt over situations in which the student is not at fault declines with development

Developmental Differences in Guilt

     Parents are the individuals who evoke feelings of guilt in the highest percent of students at all grade levels

     Students are increasingly likely to report guilt over lying and inconsiderate behavior as they get older

Developmental Differences in Guilt

     Guilt over externalizing behaviors (ex. aggression) declines with development

     Guilt over internalizing behaviors becomes more prevalent with development


The Moral Development of Children

The Genealogy of Morals

     Nativist theories à State that human morality springs from emotional dispositions that are hardwired in to your species

     Learning theories à Concentrate on children’s acquisition of behavioral norms and values through observation, imitation, and reward


The Genealogy of Morals

     Intellectual Dev’t theories à Believe that virtue and vice are a matter of conscious choice

     This includes theories by Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg

Conscience vs. Chocolate

     None of the three traditional theories is sufficient to explain children’s moral growth and behavior

     None of these models is able to answer this important question: What makes them live up to their ideals or not?

     Research has shown that ideals can     have an increasing influence on      conduct as a child matures

Do the Right Thing

     A person must adopt those beliefs as a central part of his or her personal identity

     Most children and adults will express the belief that It is wrong to allow others to suffer, but only a few of these people will feel they need to do something about it

     A study of moral exemplars showed that they were no more insightful when it came to moral reasoning than everyone else’s

Do The Right Thing, Con’t

     How does an adolescent acquire a moral identity?

    It is gradually occurring as a result of feedback from others; observations of actions by others that either inspire or appall; reflection of their own experience, and cultural influences

Teach Your Children Well

     Parents are generally the original source of moral guidance

     Authoritative parenting facilitates children’s moral growth better than the other forms of parenting

     One of the most influential things that a parent can do is encourage the         right kind of peer relations

Teach Your Children Well

     The work of Ianni:  What make the difference:

     Teachers did not tolerate cheating on exams

     Parents did not let children get away with lying

     Coaches did not advocate bending the rules to win

     People of all ages expected openness from                                       friends


      Damon, W. (1999, August). The moral development of children. Scientific American, 72-78.

      Papalia, D.E., Olds, S.W., & Feldman, R.D. (2001). Human development, eighth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

      McDevitt, T.M. & Ormrod, J.E. (2004). Child development: Educating and working with children and adolescents. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

      Walker, L.J., de Vries, B., & Trevethan, S.D. (1987). Moral stages and moral orientations in real-life and hypothetical dilemmas. Child Development, 58, 842-858.

      Williams, C. & Bybee, J. (1994). What do children feel guilty about? Developmental and gender differences. Developmental Psychology, 30 (5), 617-623.