Page 396-429, 33 pages Page 1 of 12
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:
o 1 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!”)
o 2 years: Start internalizing, capable of some self-control in parents’ absence.
o 3 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.
o 3-year olds prefer to earn 1 sticker immediately instead of 5 stickers later.
o 4-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 Page 396-429, 33 pages Page 2 of 12
• 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. Page 396-429, 33 pages Page 3 of12
• 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.
o Ben 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. Page 396-429, 33 pages Page 4 of12
o Ben should go to San Francisco to deliver the wedding rings even if it means taking the train
ticket from the man’s coat
• In reality, very few people reach
stage 6. Data also shows that there is
a lot of overlap between age and
stages – less discontinuous than
• Kohlberg’s studies focused on boys,
while other studies show males and
females may differ in reasoning
• Hard to code responses – may
answer in one way, but change when asked to clarify or from the other perspective (“Should people do
everything they can to obey the law?”)
Beyond Kohlberg’s Theory
Gilligan’s Ethic of Caring
• Gilligan argues Kohlberg’s emphasis on justice applies more to men than women, as women’s moral
reasoning is often rooted in concern for others, an injunction to care and a responsibility to alleviate
troubles in the world
• Children start off preoccupied with their own needs, but soon start caring for others such as infants and
the elderly. This caring for others and oneself is united by caring in all human relationships, denouncing
exploitation and violence. E.g. Volunteering at a homeless shelter because humans should care for each
• This reasoning becomes qualitatively more sophisticated with development, but emphasizes care and
helping others in need, instead of justice with treating people fairly
• Meta-analysis shows that overall males tend to get slightly higher scores on problems that emphasized
justice, while females score slightly higher on problems that emphasize caring – but too small to indicate
female moral reasoning is predominated by concern with care, and male with justice.
• Most think about issues in terms of both justice and caring, depending on nature of moral dilemma and
Development of Domains of Social Judgement
• Moral Judgement: Transgressions defined by harming another person. Focus on issues of right/wrong,
fairness and justice. Somewhat universal with exceptions: killing someone for no reason is always wrong,
but in other cultures, killing due to adultery, death penalty, and euthanasia are acceptable.
• Social Conventions: Arbitrary standards of behaviour agreed by a cultural group to facilitate group
interactions. These customs ensure social organization, e.g. lining up, paying taxes. Respect for elders
differs between cultures
• Personal Judgements: Choices concerning one’s own body, such as what to eat or wear, and choices
of friends and activities. These decisions are personal preference, not right or wrong.
• Children differentiate between these domains in preschool, believe breaking moral rule more serious
and should be punished more severely than breaking a social convention. The level they believe an issue
is on also affects what their decision of behaviour is.
o By age 3, differentiate between moral and social conventions. By age 4, this is internalized.
• Belief that adults have authority over social conventions, but not moral rules that stem from a
higher authority or personal domain that is up to each individual – feel they should have authority over
their personal choices.
• These domains of social justice are cross-culturally similar, children and adolescents in many countries
distinguish these domains and reason similarly within each domain. However, different rules may be Page 396-429, 33 pages Page 5 of 12
classified in different domains – the train ticket scenario demonstrates different classifications of helping
others as either a moral rule or a social convention.
• Circumstances that justify lying also vary with culture, in Asia when it helps the group and in North
America to protect individual rights. E.g. A classmate who sings poorly wants to join the choir; “Sorry but
there are no spaces left in the choir” for protecting quality of choir, or “My friend sings really well” to make
the friend happy
• Parental response to different kinds of transgressions inform judgement. When a child breaks a moral
rule, adults talk about impact on the victim and how they are hurt. When a child violates a social
convention, adults talk about the need to follow rules and obey authority figures. In the personal domain,
adults encourage children to make their own choices.
• Capacity to reason about moral values, and distinctions between types of values, increases with age.
Promoting Moral Reasoning
• Conscience: Internal guidance for moral reasoning, not just feeling bad when one does something
bad, but also when they fail to do something good (guilty when not being prosocial).
• Use of rational explanations and not just punishment in parenting, secure relationship important so
punishment used does not become too overwhelming. If overwhelming, will feel shame instead of guilt
and withdraw from the situation. Children who are temperamentally fearful may become too distressed to
understand the disciplinary message and moral lesson.
• Simple exposure to advanced moral reasoning may promote developmental change. Children in grades
4-7 were exposed to moral stage 3 reasoning in a role-playing situation, one level above their current
level; since they were beginning entry into the formal operational level, they advanced in sophistication of
• This is particularly helpful for revealing shortcomings in one’s moral reasoning, by comparing oneself
to a higher level. This is particularly true when the conversational partner requests clarification or
paraphrases what the child is saying, making an effort to understand the other’s view.
• Incorporating morality into the school curriculum helps understanding, teaching UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child as part of social studies class. Teaching about “Rights, Respect, and Responsibility”:
correlated with higher self-esteem, increased respect for rights of others, and perceived teachers as
• Youth who are moral exemplars are especially aware of issues such as the suffering of others, e.g.
Craig Keilburger (Free the Children), Severn Cullis-Suzuki (Ecological Children’s Organization), and
Bilaal Rajan (Hands for Help)
• Adolescents who are more involved in religion tend to have greater concern for others and place more
emphasis on helping them. This may be through religions providing moral beliefs and guidelines, or
through involvement in religious youth groups connecting one to an extended network of caring peers
and adults; interaction through this network helps develop a sense of responsibility in the adolescent.
• Prosocial Behaviour: Actions that benefit others. Altruism: Helping another with no expectation of
direct benefit to the helper, driven by feelings of responsibility for other people.
• Prosocial behaviour likely evolved because it is pragmatic – those who frequently help others are more
likely to receive help themselves, increasing survival.
Development of Prosocial Behaviour
• Eisenberg studied these with dilemmas between helping the self and others, e.g. You are walking to
the birthday party and excited to get cake; you see a child who has fallen and hurt himself. Would you
stop to help or keep walking to the party? Page 396-429, 33 pages Page 6 of12
• Reasoning for prosocial judgement comes in at younger age than moral reasoning and higher
correlation with actual behaviour; may be because these situations are more familiar and realistic.
• Simple acts of altruism by 18 months, with toddlers appearing concerned when seeing others obviously
hurt or upset. They try to comfort by hugging or patting. Children who are abused will often hit other
children who cry, since that is what happens to them in this situation
• 1) Hedonistic Orientation: Only think of self-interest, or tit-for-tat. Will likely leave the child assuming
an adult will come help, or only help if they could still get to party on time.
• 2) Needs-Oriented Orientation: Simple rules without reflection, e.g. “Always help others”
• 3) Stereotyped, Approval-Focused Orientation: Based on expectation of help, I would want them to
• 4) Emphatic Orientation: Truly identifying with the other person
• Children gradually understand others’ needs and learn more appropriate responses, such as solving
the problem by retrieving an object that was dropped, or turning off a TV program that is upsetting. These
early attempts are limited because children’s knowledge of what they can do t