Chapter 14: Moral Development
Childrens moral development involves the ways in which they come to understand
and follow the rules of their social world.
Moral rules: broad issues of fairness and justice
Social conventions: rules used by society to maintain order
Morality has different components:
1) Thought processes that underlie morality are assessed in moral reasoning studies
2) Behaviours governed by morality are assessed in studies of moral conduct
1) Theories of Moral Development
A) Cognitive-Developmental Approaches
Since young children often have difficulty taking multiple perspectives into
account, cognitive developmentalists have concluded that advances in moral
reasoning abilities depend heavily on childrens improving cognitive abilities.
a) Piagets Theory
Piaget used 2 methods to investigate how childrens conceptions of morality
1) Naturalistic approach: he examined how youngsters created and enforced
rules of their games, and he questioned them about circumstances under
which rules could be modified or even ignored.
2) Experimental: he presented individual children with moral dilemmas to
solve, in order to assess their level of moral reasoning. They took the
form of short stories in which the child had to determine which of the two
characters was naughtier.
Piaget developed a 4 stage model of moral development:
Stage 1: (2-4 years old) Children have no real conception of morality.
Their behaviour includes play that has no formal rules.
Stage 2: The stage of Moral Realism: (5-7 years old) Rule following
emerges and children approach the concept in an absolutist
manner. Childrens reasoning is based on objective and
physical aspects of a situation and is often inflexible. Another
characteristic of this stage is immanent justice: children
believe that punishment must follow any rule violation,
including those that appear to go undetected. Objective
responsibility: Children evaluate moral situations on the basis
of amount of damage.
Stage 3: The stage of Moral Relativism: (8-11 years) Children view
rules as agreements that can be altered and consider peoples
motives or intentions when evaluating their moral conduct.
Stage 4: Children become capable of developing new rules when the
circumstances require it.
Piaget believed that both cognitive factors and social experiences underlie
the development of moral reasoning. The movement away from
egocentrism as well as interactions with peers help develop moral
reasoning. Through their interactions with peers, children learn that there can be several perspectives on an issue and that rules are the result of
negotiating, compromising and respecting the points of view of other
b) Kohlbergs Model
Kohlberg presented children with moral dilemmas in which the child must
choose what the character should do, and explain why.
Kohlberg concluded that moral reasoning develops in 3 predictable levels:
1) Preconventional level: Kohlbergs first two stages of moral
development. Moral reasoning is based on the
assumption that individuals must serve their own
2) Conventional level: Kohlbergs 3 and 4 stages of moral development.
Moral reasoning is based on the view that a social system
must be based on laws and regulations.
3) Postconventional level: Kohlbergs final stages of moral development.
Moral reasoning is based on the assumption that the
value, dignity and rights of each individual person
must be maintained.
Few individuals attain the 6 stage.
Kohlbergs theory assumes that moral development results from a
combination of improving cognitive skills and repeated encounters with
This model places particular importance on role-taking opportunities, which
occur when children participate in decision-making situations with others
and exchange differing points of view on moral questions.
Stage 1: Morality derives from power and authority
Stage 2: Morality means looking out for yourself
Stage 3: Morality means doing what makes you liked Stage 4: Whats right is whats legal
Stage 5: Human rights take precedence over laws
Stage 6: Morality is a matter of personal conscience
c) Turiels Model
Turiel interviewed children about hypothetical situations. The stories were
designed to depict rule violations in 3 distinct domains:
1) Moral domain: concerned with peoples rights and welfare, issues
concerning fairness and justice (ex: lying, stealing).
2) Social domain: social conventions: rules that guide social relations
among people (ex: being polite).
3) Matters of personal choice: individual preferences take priority (ex:
hairstyle, choice of friends).
By age 3, most children can differentiate the different domains and realize
that moral violations are worse than violations of social conventions.
Childrens understanding of issues within the moral domain is thought to
result from their social interactions, especially with peers.
B) Evolutionary and Biological Approaches
Evolutionary theorists believe the rudiments of human morality must exist in
the behaviour of nonhuman primates.
Altruistic behaviours are those that benefit someone else but offer no
obvious benefit, and perhaps even some cost, to the individual performing
them (ex: giving money to charity).
Paradox of Altruism: the logical dilemma faced by ethological theorists
who try to reconcile self-sacrificial behaviour with the
concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest.
Sociobiologists have attempted to resolve this problem by adding 2
concepts to Darwins notion of survival of the fittest:
1) Kin Selection: a proposed mechanism by which an individual behaves in
ways that increase the chances for the survival and
reproduction of their genes, rather than themselves.
2) Reciprocal Altruism: people are genetically programmed to be helpful
because: 1) it increases the likelihood that they will
someday in turn receive aid from the person they helped,
or from some other altruistic member of their group, or
2) by helping someone else in their social group, they
help ensure that genes similar to their own will be
passed on in the species.
One function of aggression is to increase the likelihood of survival of an
individuals genes. Aggression is involved in predation, defending the nest (home) against
intruders, and defending valuable territory
The evolutionary view is that aggression is an inevitable part of human
Aggression may lead to dominance hierarchies: a structured organization
in which each group member fits a slot, controlling those below and
submitting to those above. Dominance hierarchies are one way of managing
conflicts of interest among group members.
Chimpanzees have also shown nonaggressive methods of managing conflict,
which require the ability to keep track of past social exchanges and a
capacity for empathy and sympathy.
C) Environmental/Learning Approaches
Theorists emphasize environmental mechanisms, such as reinforcement,
punishment and observational learning (modelling and imitation).
This approach predicts that behaviours should develop more individually,
depending primarily on each childs social environment and personal
Bandura holds that reinforcement and punishment are major processes by
which children acquire moral behaviours. Children are more likely to produce
behaviours that are approved or rewarded and tend to inhibit behaviours that
are ignored or punished.
With development, reinforcement and observational processes become
internalized, and children learn to use them to regulate their own behaviour.
D) Sociocultural Approaches
These approaches view moral development as a process of socialization.
Children develop moral understanding during their interactions with parents
and other adults. Adults scaffold childrens moral development.
2) Moral Reasoning
A) Evaluating Piagets Model
Piagets model has substantial support:
1) With age, children do increasingly consider motives and intentions when
evaluating the morality of actions.
2) Various cognitive measures, including perspective-taking and mental state
understanding, have been associated with childrens level of moral
3) Peer relations are an important context for moral development: childrens
peer relations provide many opportunities to tackle moral issues.
4) Children can achieve advances in moral reasoning via discussions with
5) Children with punitive parents who reinforce strict adherence to rules do
tend to display less mature moral reasoning and behaviour.
Piaget was wrong about a few things too: