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Developmental Psychology on Morality - Dictionary of Arguments

Upton I 124
Morality/Developmental psychology/Upton: While Piaget distinguishes between heteronomous and autonomous morality (>Morality/Piaget), Kohlberg (1958)(1) speaks of three stages of development of moral thinking: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional morality. >Morality/Kohlberg.
Post-conventional Morality/Kohlberg: Kohlberg (1958(1) suggested that most adolescents reach level II [conventional morality] and most of us stay at this level of reasoning during adulthood. Only a few individuals reach the post-conventional level of reasoning; indeed, Kohlberg found stage 6 to be so rare that it has since been removed from the theory.
VsKohlberg: Evidence supports the view that children and adolescents progress through the stages Kohlberg suggested, even if they may not reach the level of post-conventional reasoning
(Flavell et al., 1993(2); Walker, 1989(3)). Cross-cultural studies also provide some evidence for the universality of Kohlberg’s first four stages (Snarey et al., 1985)(4). However, this theory is not without its critics and Kohlberg’s model has been accused of both cultural and gender biases.
Cultural psychologyVsKohlberg: It has been suggested that Kohlberg’s theory is culturally biased because it emphasizes ideals such as individual rights and social justice, which are found mainly in Western cultures (Shweder, 1994)(5).
Miller and Bersoff (1992)(6) showed that Americans placed greater value on a justice orientation (stage 4) than Indians. In contrast, Indians placed a greater weight on interpersonal responsibilities, such as upholding one’s obligations to others and being responsive to other people’s needs (stage 3). In the same way, it has been noted that women are more likely to use stage 3 than stage 4 reasoning.
Gender studiesVsKohlberg: According to Gilligan (1982(7), 1996(8)), the ordering of the stages therefore reflects a gender bias. Placing abstract principles of justice (stage 4) above relationships and concern for others (stage 3) is based on a male norm and reflects the fact that most of Kohlberg’s research used male participants. Gilligan therefore argues that these orientations are indeed different, but that one is not necessarily better than the other.
However, there is some debate about the extent of the evidence to support Gilligan’s claims of gender differences in moral reasoning; a meta-analysis of the evidence by Jaffee and Hyde (2000)(9) found that gender differences in reasoning were small and usually better explained by the nature of the dilemma than by gender. The evidence now seems to suggest that care-based reasoning is used by both males and females to evaluate interpersonal dilemmas, while justice reasoning is applied to societal dilemmas.



1. Kohlberg, L (1958) The development of modes of moral thinking and choice in the years 10 to
16. Unpublished doctoral thesis, University of Chicago.
2. Flavell, JH, Miller, PH and Miller, SA (1993) Cognitive Development(3rd edn). Englewood Cliffs,
NJ: Prentice Hall.
3. Walker, U (1989) A longitudinal study of moral reasoning. Child Development, 60: 157-66.
4. Snarey, JR, Reimer, J and Kohlberg, L (1985) The development of social-moral reasoning among kibbutz adolescents: a longitudinal cross-cultural study. Developmental Psychology, 20:3-17.
5. Shweder, RA and Levine, RA (eds)(1994) Culture Theory: Essays on mind, self and emotion.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
6. Miller, JG and Bersoff, DM (1992) Culture and moral judgment: how are conflicts between justice and interpersonal responsibilities resolved? Journal of Personality and Social Psychol0ogy, 62(4): 541-54.
7. Gilligan, C (1982) In a D4fferent Voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
8. Gilligan. C (1996) The centrality of relationships in psychological development: a puzzle, some evidence and a theory, in Noam, GG and Fischer, KW (eds) Development and Vulnerability in Close Relationships. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
9. Jaffee, S and Hyde,JS (2000) Gender differences in moral orientation: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 126: 703-2 6.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Developmental Psychology
Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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