Concept of Moral Development
Moral development focuses on the emergence, change, and understanding of morality from infancy through adulthood. In the field of moral development, morality is defined as principles for how individuals ought to treat one another, with respect to justice, others’ welfare, and rights. In order to investigate how individuals understand morality, it is essential to measure their beliefs, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that contribute to moral understanding. The field of moral development studies the role of peers and parents in facilitating moral development in the life of children, the role of conscience and values, socialization and cultural influences, empathy and altruism, and positive development. The interest in morality spans many disciplines (e.g., philosophy, economics, biology, and political science) and specializations within psychology (e.g., social, cognitive, and cultural). Moral developmental psychology research focuses on questions of origins and change in morality across the lifespan.
The founder of psychoanalysis, Freud (2010), proposed the existence of a tension between the needs of society and the individual. According to Freud, the moral development proceeds when the individual’s selfish desires are repressed and replaced by the values of important socializing agents in one’s life (for instance, one’s parents). A proponent of behaviorism, Skinner (2008) similarly focused on socialization as the primary force behind moral development. In contrast to Freud’s notion of a struggle between internal and external forces, Skinner focused on the power of external forces (reinforcement contingencies) to shape an individual’s development. While both Freud and Skinner focused on the external forces that bear on morality (parents in the case of Freud, and behavioral contingencies in the case of Skinner), Piaget (2005) focused on the individual’s construction, construal, and interpretation of morality from a social-cognitive and social-emotional perspective.
To understand adult morality, Piaget believed that it was necessary to study both how morality manifests in the child’s world as well as the factors that contribute to the emergence of central moral concepts such as welfare, justice, and rights. Interviewing children using the Clinical Interview Method, Piaget (2005) found that young children were focused on authority mandates, and that with age children become autonomous, evaluating actions from a set of independent principles of morality. Kohlberg (2008) expanded upon Piagetian notions of moral development. While they both viewed moral development as a result of a deliberate attempt to increase the coordination and integration of one’s orientation to the world, Kohlberg's studies and research provided a systematic 3-level, 6-stage sequence reflecting changes in moral judgment throughout the lifespan. Specifically, Kohlberg argued that development proceeds from a selfish desire to avoid punishment (personal), to a concern for group functioning (societal), to a concern for the consistent application of universal ethical principles (moral).Furthermore, Kohlberg believed that in order for a child to advance to a more developed level of morality, he or she must develop an equivalent level of intellectual ability. In the words of Kohlberg, “ The child can internalize the moral values of his parents and culture and make them his own only as he comes to relate these values to a comprehended social order and to his own goals as a social self”. Although Kohlberg is praised for his work there have been many questions raised whether or not it is 100% accurate. Many people believe his six-stage theory was sexist because only males were in the test group for this study. Regardless, Kolberg’s research cemented his expanded ideas on moral development as legitimate in the field of developmental psychology.
Turiel (1983, 1998, 2002, 2006) argued for a social domain approach to social cognition, delineating how individuals differentiate moral (fairness, equality, justice), societal (conventions, group functioning, traditions), and psychological (personal, individual prerogative) concepts from early in development throughout the lifespan. Over the past 40 years, research findings have supported this model, demonstrating how children, adolescents, and adults differentiate moral rules from conventional rules, identify the personal domain as a nonregulated domain, and evaluate multifaceted (or complex) situations that involve more than one domain. This research has been conducted in a wide range of countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, U.K., U.S., Virgin Islands) and with rural and urban children, for low and high income communities, and traditional and modern cultures. Turiel's social domain theory showed that children were actually younger in developing moral standards than past psychologists predicted.
Interpersonal influences on moral development of Pupils
Children’s interactions with parents, caregivers and peers have been shown to influence their development of moral understanding and behavior. Researchers have addressed the influence of interpersonal interactions on children’s moral development from two primary perspectives: socialization/internalization (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Kochanska & Askan, 1995; Kochanska, Askan, & Koenig, 1995) and social domain theory (Turiel, 1983; Smetana 2006). Research from the social domain theory perspective focuses on how children actively distinguish moral from conventional behavior based in part on the responses of parents, teachers, and peers (Smetana, 1997). Adults tend to respond to children’s moral transgressions (e.g. hitting or stealing) by drawing the child’s attention to the effect of his or her action on others, and doing so consistently across various contexts. In contrast, adults are more likely to respond to children’s conventional misdeeds (e.g. wearing a hat in the classroom, eating spaghetti with fingers) by reminding children about specific rules and doing so only in certain contexts (e.g. at school but not at home) (Smetana, 1984; 1985). Peers respond mainly to moral but not conventional transgressions and demonstrate emotional distress (e.g. crying or yelling) when they are the victim of moral but not conventional transgressions (Smetana, 1984). Children then use these differing cues to help determine whether behaviors are conventionally wrong.
Research from a socialization/internalization perspective focuses on the ways in which adults pass down standards of behavior to children through parenting techniques and why children do or do not internalize those values (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Kochanska & Askan, 1995). From this perspective, moral development involves children’s increasing compliance with and internalization of adult rules, requests, and standards of behavior. Using these definitions, researchers find that parenting behaviors vary in the extent to which they encourage children’s internalization of values, and that these effects depend partially on child attributes, such as age and temperament (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994). For instance, Kochanska (1997) showed that gentle parental discipline best promotes conscience development in temperamentally fearful children but that parental responsiveness and a mutually responsive parent-child orientation best promote conscience development in temperamentally fearless children. These parental influences exert their effects through multiple pathways, including increasing children’s experience of moral emotions (e.g. guilt, empathy) and their self-identification as moral individuals (Kochanska, 2010).