Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Morality is a set of standards that a person has about the rightness and wrongness of various kinds of behavior. Moral development is the way in which these sets of standards change over a period of time and experiences. Without moral rules—obligatory social regulations based on the principles of justice and welfare for others—society would be chaotic and without order. Most societies, for example, agree that certain behaviors (such as murder and theft) are wrong, and most people follow these moral principles. Not everyone has the same way of reasoning about the morality of a situation, however, as seen in the following two scenarios from the work of psychologist Jean Piaget.
A little boy named John is in his room. He is called to dinner, and he goes into the dining room. Behind the door on a chair is a tray with fifteen cups on it. John does not know this; when he goes in, the door knocks against the tray, and all fifteen cups are broken. There is another boy, named Henry. One day when his mother is out he tries to get some jam from the cupboard. He climbs onto a chair but cannot reach it; he knocks over a cup. The cup falls down and breaks.
When asked which of the above two boys is more naughty, most adults would immediately reply that Henry is more guilty. Conversely, a child between six and ten years of age usually will say that John is more guilty. The differences between the two scenes consist of both the amount...
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Influence of Freud and Piaget (Psychology and Mental Health)
Human morality has been an issue in philosophy since the days of Aristotle; psychology primarily began to study the topic in the early twentieth century. At this time, both Sigmund Freud and Piaget addressed the issue of children’s moral development.
Freud proposed that children around four years of age assimilate the morals and standards of their same-sex parent, resulting in the onset of the child’s superego, which is the storehouse for one’s conscience. Thus, children have a rudimentary sense of right and wrong based on the morals of their parental figure. Since Freud’s concept was based on his theory of psychosexual development, it was discredited by his European colleagues for most of his lifetime. Thus, his theory of moral acquisition has not generally been the basis of research on the development of morality.
Piaget began observing children when he was giving intelligence tests in the laboratory of Alfred Binet. He observed that children do not reason in the same way that adults do. Thus, by questioning Swiss schoolchildren about their rules in a game of marbles, Piaget adapted his theory of cognitive development to moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg elaborated on Piaget’s theory by studying children’s as well as adults’ reasoning concerning moral dilemmas. Kohlberg is still generally considered the leading theorist of moral development.
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Stages of Moral Development (Psychology and Mental Health)
According to Piaget and Kohlberg, moral judgments are related to the stage of cognitive development from which a person is operating when making these judgments. According to Piaget’s theory, the development of morality includes several stages. People cannot progress to higher stages of moral development until they have also progressed through higher stages of cognitive understanding. Cognition refers to the mental processes of thinking, reasoning, knowing, remembering, understanding, and problem solving. During the premoral stage (through five years of age), children have little awareness of morals. As children grow, they learn about cooperative activity and equality among peers. This cognitive knowledge leads to a new respect for rights and wrongs. At this stage (age six to ten), children cannot judge that Henry is more guilty than John, because they are not capable of understanding the differences in the children’s intentions. The only understanding is of the degree of damage done. Therefore, the number of cups broken is the basis for the judgment of the wrongness of the act, regardless of the actor’s good or bad intentions.
Finally, as children develop, they learn that rules can be challenged and are able to consider other factors, such as a person’s intentions and motivation. Once this shift in perception occurs, children’s moral development will progress to a higher stage.
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Role of Reasoning (Psychology and Mental Health)
Kohlberg expanded Piaget’s theory by investigating how people reasoned the rightness or wrongness of an act and not how people actually behaved. For example, Kohlberg proposed the following moral dilemma. A man named Heinz had a wife who was dying from a disease that could be cured with a drug manufactured by a local pharmacist. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times the amount it cost. Heinz could not afford the drug and pleaded with the man to discount the drug or let him pay a little at a time. The druggist refused, so Heinz broke into the pharmacy and stole the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have stolen the drug?
By listening to people’s reasoning concerning Heinz’s actions, Kohlberg proposed that there are three levels (of two stages each) of moral reasoning. The first level is called the preconventional level; in this stage, a person’s feelings of right and wrong are based on an external set of rules that have been handed down by an authority figure such as a parent, teacher, or religious figure. These rules are obeyed to avoid punishment or to gain rewards. In other words, people at this stage of moral reasoning would not steal the drug—not because they believed that stealing was wrong, but rather because they had been told not to and would fear being caught and punished for their action.
The second level of moral reasoning is the conventional level, at which...
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Role-Playing (Psychology and Mental Health)
Moral development is a progression from one stage to a different, higher stage of reasoning. One cannot proceed to a higher stage of morality without the accompanying cognitive understanding. Thus, if a child thinks that John, who broke fifteen cups, is more guilty than Henry, who broke one cup, then merely telling the child that Henry’s intentions were not as good as John’s, and therefore John is not as guilty, is not going to change the child’s perceptions. The child’s understanding of the situation must be actively changed. One way of doing this is through role-playing. The child who thinks that John is more guilty can be told to act out the two scenes, playing each of the two boys. By asking the child questions about his or her feelings while going through each of the scenes, one can help the child gain empathy (the capacity for experiencing the feelings and thoughts of other people) for each of the characters and gain a better understanding of intentions and actions. Once the child has the cognitive understanding of intentions, he or she is then able to reason at a higher level of moral development.
In other words, in trying to elevate someone’s moral reasoning, the first goal is to elevate his or her cognitive understanding of the situation. This can also be done by citing similar examples within the person’s own experience and chaining them to the event at hand. For example, if last week the child had...
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Other areas of psychological research are concerned with the topic of children’s social cognitions, which subsumes the topic of morals and considers other issues such as empathy, attribution, and motivations. One area that has come to light is the issue of the effect of the emotions on cognitions and their contribution to moral judgments. For example, it has been shown that people in a good mood are more likely to help than those in a bad mood. Expanding on this premise, other research has demonstrated that even the way people perceive an object or situation is closely linked to their psychological or emotional states at the time. Even concrete perceptions can be changed by a person’s state of being. One example is that people who are poor actually judge the size of a quarter to be larger than do people who are rich.
As cognitive theories begin to consider the interactive components that emotions have in cognitions, new methods of study and new theoretical predictions will change the way cognitive psychologists study such areas as problem solving, decision making, reasoning, and memory. Each of these areas is independently related to the study of moral development and should affect the way psychologists think about how people acquire and think about morality within society.
In addition, as society increases in sophistication and technology, new issues will emerge that will strain old theories. Issues...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Duska, Ronald F., and Mariellen Whelan. Moral Development: A Guide to Piaget and Kohlberg. New York: Paulist Press, 1975. Presents Jean Piaget’s theory and its implications for Lawrence Kohlberg’s expansion into his own theory of moral development. All of the moral stories used by Piaget and Kohlberg in their research are replicated in this book. Also includes research findings and ways in which to apply these theories to everyday situations in teaching children. This book can be read easily by the high school or college student.
Gilligan, Carol, Janie Victoria Ward, and Jill McLean Taylor, eds. Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women’s Thinking to Psychological Theory and Education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1988. A collection of essays presenting the contribution of women’s studies to Kohlbergian theories of moral development.
Killen, Melanie, and Judith Smetana. Handbook of Moral Development. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006. This book covers the wide range of theories being studied in the field of moral development, with chapters on conscience, stages of moral development, social justice, emotions, and community service.
Nucci, Larry P. Education in the Moral Domain. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Brings together theoretical and practical approaches to creating a classroom environment that nurtures...
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Moral Development (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
The formation of a system of underlying assumptions about standards and principles that govern moral decisions.
Moral development involves the formation of a system of values on which to base decisions concerning "right" and "wrong, " or "good" and "bad."fi Values are underlying assumptions about standards that govern moral decisions.
Although morality has been a topic of discussion since the beginning of human civilization, the scientific study of moral development did not begin in earnest until the late 1950s. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987), an American psychologist building upon Jean Piaget's work in cognitive reasoning, posited six stages of moral development in his 1958 doctoral thesis. Since that time, morality and moral development have become acceptable subjects of scientific research. Prior to Kohlberg's work, the prevailing positivist view claimed that science should be" value-free"hat morality had no place in scientific studies. By choosing to study moral development scientifically, Kohlberg broke through the positivist boundary and established morality as a legitimate subject of scientific research.
There are several approaches to the study of moral development, which are categorized in a variety of ways. Briefly, the social learning theory approach claims that humans develop morality by...
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Moral Development (Encyclopedia of Children's Health)
Moral development is the process through which children develop proper attitudes and behaviors toward other people in society, based on social and cultural norms, rules, and laws.
Moral development is a concern for every parent. Teaching a child to distinguish right from wrong and to behave accordingly is a goal of parenting.
Moral development is a complex issue that, since the beginning of human civilization,has been a topic of discussion among some of the world's most distinguished psychologists, theologians, and culture theorists. It was not studied scientifically until the late 1950s.
Piaget's theory of moral reasoning
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, explored how children developed moral reasoning. He rejected the idea that children learn and internalize the rules and morals of society by being given the rules and forced to adhere to them. Through his research on how children formed their judgments about moral behavior, he recognized that children learn morality best by having to deal with others in groups. He reasoned that there was a process by which children conform to society's norms of what is...
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