PSYC 251 Chapter Notes - Chapter 12: Moral Development, Homeless Shelter, Magical Thinking
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Chapter 12: Moral Understanding & Behaviour
•Self-Control: The ability to control one’s behaviour, and to inhibit impulsive responding to temptations
•Self-control is one of the first steps toward moral behaviour, as children learn they cannot constantly do
whatever tempts them at the moment; they must learn to restrain themselves and follow rules for
behaviour in certain situations
Beginnings of Self-Control
•Self-control emerges in infancy and gradually improves during preschool years:
o1 year: Become aware of others demands, to which they must react. They learn others set limits
on their actions, reflecting concern for their safety (“Don’t touch the hot stove!”) and early
socialization (“Don’t grab Tommy’s toy!”)
o2 years: Start internalizing, capable of some self-control in parents’ absence.
o3 years: Capable of self-regulation to control own behaviour, e.g. telling themselves they don’t
really want Tommy’s toy, or turning to another activity to remove the temptation.
•One way to chart development of self-control is with studies of delayed gratification, where children
are offered choice between a relatively small reward immediately, or a much larger reward if they wait.
o3-year olds prefer to earn 1 sticker immediately instead of 5 stickers later.
o4-year olds willing to wait for 4-5 stickers but not for 2-3 stickers
•These tests have concurrent validity with mothers’ reports of their child’s self-control, such as
spontaneous confessions to misdeeds, more likely to do as asked at home without parental supervision,
•Preschool self-control predicts outcomes in adolescence: more attentive, higher SAT scores, less likely
to experiment with drugs and alcohols, higher self-esteem
Influences on Self-Control
•Greater self-control correlated with parenting style that is warm and loving, but with well-defined
limitations. Interactions about discipline are dialogues with negotiations, not monologues.
•Inductive Reasoning: Inducing the child to reason, think for oneself about the situation; this is one
discipline style, better for moral development
•Power Assertion: Laying down the law without explanation, “You’ll do it because I say so”
•Self-control tends to be lower if parents are very strict, removing opportunity or incentive to internalize
control – more reliant on external control
•Emotionally temperament children are less able to control themselves – those who have difficulty
regulating emotions usually have difficulty regulating behaviour
•Anxiety and fearfulness influence reaction to parental control; high anxiety and fearfulness mean
children become nervous at prospect of potential wrongdoing. These children generally comply with
•For other children, positive appears to cooperate build on strong attachment relationship between
parent and child, out of positive feelings rather than distress caused by fear of misdeeds.
•Chinese toddlers more likely to be willingly compliant and less likely to protest than Canadian children,
perhaps due to high value of cooperation in Chinese society and earlier internalization.
Improving Children’s Self-Control
•Ways to resist temptation include reminding oneself of the importance of long-term goals, and
reducing attraction of the tempting event
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•In delayed gratification studies, some children talked to themselves using private speech as regulation
–“I’ve got to wait to get the best prize!” Others distracted themselves by singing or inventing games.
•Reminders to avoid looking at the tempting object, reminders of rules against touching the tempting
object, and activities designed to divert attention are all useful.
REASONING ABOUT MORAL ISSUES
•Learning right from wrong involves emotional (empathy), cognitive (interpretations), and behavioural
components. The development of an internal conscience is important, and moral reasoning to
understand not just behavioural consequences, but intentions and reasons.
•At 3 years, clear on reasons for morality but may still behave immorally, e.g. lying
•From rigid acceptance of rules to understanding of circumstances. Studied by watching kids play
games and giving moral vignettes, e.g. must kneel to shoot the marble, what if a kid broke his leg?
•1) Premoral (2-4 years): No developed moral sensibility
•2) Moral Realism (5-7 years): Believe rules are created by wise adults, must be followed and never
broken or changed. This is also referred to as heteronomous morality, absolute rules handed down by
•During this stage, children also believe in immanent justice, the idea that breaking a rule always
inevitably leads to punishment; this involves some magical thinking about a constantly observing “rule-
•They pay attention only to consequences, not intentions, e.g. break 5 dishes accidentally or break 3 on
•3) Moral Relativism (8-10 years): Understanding rules are created by people, and are changeable.
These children have autonomous morality, based more on free will. This is enabled by advances in
cognitive development that allow understanding of the reasons for rules.
•This involves an understanding of intentions in addition to consequences; belief that punishment must
fit the crime to be fair. Also understand that rules can be changed by a majority, that they are not
•Does not take into account individual differences in cognitive maturity, amount of socialization – more
socialization helps with understanding of conflicts
•More authoritarian parenting slows moral development due to lack of explanations of rules
•Young children do not necessarily see adult authority as final and absolute. They believe pushing a
child or damaging a child’s possession is wrong, even if an adult says it’s OK.
•Underestimated age where intentions are taken into account
•Moral development correlated with perspective-taking (Theory of Mind), logic tasks, and IQ
•Kohlberg used moral dilemmas to study moral reasoning, where every decision involves undesirable
consequences; the focus is not on a “correct” answer, but on the reasoning used to justify a decision
•Heinz Dilemma: A woman is near death from cancer. One drug might save her, a form of radium that a
druggist in the town had recently discovered. The druggist was charging $2000, even though the drug
cost him only $200 to make. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow
money, but could only get together $1000. He told the druggist that his wife was dying, and asked him to
sell it cheaper or let him pay the rest later. But the druggist said, “No.” The husband was desperate and
broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.
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•Like Piaget, proposed that moral reasoning developed in stages for 3 superstages and 6 sub-stages. In
the earliest stages, moral reasoning is based on external forces; at advanced levels, it is based on a
personal, internal moral code unaffected by others’ views or societal expectations.
•A) Preconventional Level: Moral reasoning controlled solely by obedience to authority, and by
rewards and punishments.
•1) Obedience Orientation: Belief that adults know what’s right and wrong, and a person should do what
adults say to avoid being punished – motivated by fear of punishment. One would believe that Heinz
should not steal the drug because it is against the law
•2) Instrumental Orientation: People look out for their own needs, nice to others because they expect the
favour to be returned – principle of equal exchange. One would believe it was alright for Heinz to steal
the drug because his wife would be thankful and do something nice for him. Or it wasn’t fair for druggist
to charge so much.
•B Conventional Level: Moral reasoning based on social norms and expectations of others.
•3) Interpersonal Norms: Act according to others’ expectations to win their approval. One would believe
Heinz should not steal the drug because then others would see him as a dishonest person.
•4) Social System Morality: Act according to social roles, expectations, and laws that help maintain order
in society and promote good for all. One would believe that Heinz should steal the drug because a
husband is obligated to do everything to save his wife’s life. Or one might believe one should not steal
because society prohibits theft.
•C) Postconventional Level: Moral decisions are based on personal, moral principles. Typically for
adults over 25, although many never reach this level
•5) Social Contract Orientation: Members of a culture adhere to a social contract due to a common set of
expectations and laws. However, if these expectations and laws no longer promote the welfare of
individuals, they become invalid. One would believe Heinz should steal the drug because rules about
property rights no longer benefit individual’s welfare.
•6) Universal Ethical Principles: Abstract principles like justice, compassion, and equality form the basis
of a personal moral code that may conflict with societal expectations and laws. One would believe that
Heinz should steal the drug because the preservation of life takes precedence over all other rights.
Support for Kohlberg’s Theory
•Kohlberg believed these stages were invariant, individuals must move through these 6 stages in the
order listed. If correct, level of moral reasoning should be strongly associated with age and level of
•Support for this sequence comes from longitudinal data measuring level of reasoning over several
years, with individuals becoming more advanced in this sequence and always either advancing or
remaining at the same level – lack of regression
•Level related to cognitive ability and perspective-taking
•Level of moral reasoning had medium correlation to level of moral behaviour – when external forces
demand vs. compelled to action based on internal personal principles.
•Delinquent adolescents who are morally offensive tend to have lower moral reasoning, emphasizing
reward and punishment
Criticisms of Kohlberg’s Theory
•However, moral reasoning is more inconsistent than Kohlberg believed, may be advanced for some
problems and less sophisticated for others, using lower reasoning when it suits our own purposes
•This sequence may not be cross-culturally universal. Not all cultures share emphasis on individual
rights and justice like Western culture – Hindu religion emphasizes duty and responsibility to others.
oBen should not take the ticket from the man’s coat pocket even though it means not getting to
San Francisco in time to deliver the wedding rings to his best friend.
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