advice: Development of moral thinking is becoming a one-horse town
from academic year 2011-12.
AQA specify Kohlberg's and Eisenberg's theories. As of
2011-12 this has been reduced to Kohlberg alone.
will find a brief account of Freud's theory, useful in as much as it
provides a good account of the Oedipus Complex. I have also
included Piaget's theory of moral development as background to
Kohlberg's. Both theories, like Kohlberg's are also androcentric,
assuming boys to be more moral than girls.
Moral development is the way in which children learn the difference
between right and wrong. It may appear incongruous in a topic on
'cognitive development', but as we shall see the main theorists, most
notably Lawrence kohlberg and Jean Piaget, assume morality to arise,
Phoenix-like, from cognitive development. For each of them, the highest
levels of moral reasoning can only be achieved when the appropriate
highest levels of cognitive development have been reached.
As with most concepts in Psychology there is some disagreement about what
morality is but a perusal through any text will give you definitions a
plenty. There is no need to get bogged down with this since hopefully you
all have some concept of morality (!) and you wonít be asked to define it
in an examination.
Haste et al (1998) suggested there were four questions to ask about moral
development. These are outlined below with the theory that seeks to
answer that particular aspect of morality:
does conscience and our feelings of guilt develop
psychoanalytical theory through the process of Oedipus/Elektra
2. How do
we develop our knowledge of rules and moral principles?
Cognitive developmental theories of Piaget and Kohlberg, that see
cognitive development as a precursor to moral development, explain
3. How do
we learn behaviours appropriate to the laws of the land and specific
to our own culture?
for guessing this is the realm of the behaviourists, particularly the
neo-behaviourist approach of Bandura and SLT.
4. How do
we develop our concern for others?
Eisenbergís theory of pro-social reasoning.
Piaget, Kohlberg and Eisenberg are specified in the specification, but
only as examples. Questions therefore cannot ask you specifically about
Piaget, Kohlberg or Eisenberg, but could ask you for a theory of moral
understanding (e.g. Piaget or Kohlberg) in which case you can choose. If
you chose Kohlberg (the sensible option) then you could use Piaget for the
purposes of evaluation and comparison.
If the question asked you for a theory of pro-social reasoning youíre
stuck with Eisenberg!
Similarly Gilligan is also mentioned in relation to gender and moral
development and would be the theory of choice and good to compare to
Freudís theory is interesting (as always) but is not mentioned in the
specification. However, since we have eluded to it on a number of
occasions during the course Iíve thrown it in for good measure. It could
be useful for the purposes of evaluation and comparison, particularly
since it assumes, like Kohlberg and Piaget, that boys are more moral than
girlsÖeven though it reaches this conclusion by a very different route!
Freud is at his best here! The child is born with an id (instinctive and
selfish) and develops an ego during the anal stage to deal with the
conflicts arising during potty training. The superego is the final
component to develop (during the phallic stage) and this is clearly the
part that is going to be relevant to morality since the superego is our
conscience, that part that is forever worrying about what others will
think. So how does the superego come into existence?
Complex and Elektra Conflict
During the phallic stage boys become obsessed by their willy (Ďwiddlerí in
Little Hans speak) and girls by their wee equivalent the clitoris! As a
result they develop an unconscious desire for their opposite sex parent;
so famously little boys fall for their mums and less famously little girls
fall for their dads (but, and you must emphasise this, according to Freud
this is an unconscious desire!).
Both sexes are worried that the same sex parent will discover their
desires and suffer anxiety as a result. Crucially, since boys gave more
to lose (their much prized Widdler), they suffer greater anxiety!
Eventually both sexes come to accept that their quest is futile and come
to the inevitable conclusion that the only way theyíll ever obtain their
object of desire is to be like their same sex parent! That is the boy
realises that the only way he get a woman like his mum is to grow up and
be like his dad.
In this way the child identifies with the same sex parent and adopts their
morals! Girls replace their love of
daddy and their penis envy with a desire to have babies of their own!
But, and it is a big butt (sorry but); because boys have more to lose they
suffer greater levels of anxiety so develop a stronger superego and as a result
reach higher levels of moral thinking!
I am not asking you to accept this, however it does make for easy evaluation
marks, since you can compare this conclusion to Piaget and Kohlberg and contrast
it with Gilligan.
Freud used his own research, for example the case of Little Hans to
support his idea of an Oedipus complex. However, this is subjective in
the extreme and each psychoanalysis carried out is very open to subjective
Freudís theory would seem to suggest that the more anxiety (due to
punishment) that a child suffers the stronger will be its superego and
consequently the greater will be its sense of morality. However, research
evidence suggests the opposite. Hoffman (1988) found that children that
are spanked the most tend to be the most badly behaved, although there
does seem to be an issue of cause and effect here! Hoffman also rejected
Freudís idea that boys have a stronger superego than girls. Snarey (1985)
found little evidence to support this view when studying morals in a
variety of cultures around the world.
Freud appears to have over-emphasised the role of the same sex parent
Freud did not consider the cognitive factors involved in moral
development. (Compare this to Piaget and Kohlberg who consider these
factors to the exclusion of all others).
Children seem to consider their moral development after the age of 7!
Cognitive theories (Piaget and Kohlberg) assume that cognitive development
underpins moral development. A child can only develop its moral thinking
as its ability to think improves and develops.
In his book 'The Moral Judgement of the Child' (1932), Piaget states that
'all morality consists in a system of rules.' Piaget, therefore considers
morality to be akin to justice and fair play. This is similar to
Kohlbergís outlook but seems to be missing out on other possible types of
morality as discussed later in Gilligan!
Piaget used two methods of investigation:
Games of marbles
Piaget would watch children
between the ages of 3 and 12 playing marbles, and get them to explain the rules,
and the reasons for the rules, to him
Piaget believed that rules
were the key to moral understanding and marbles was ideal since children played
the game without adult interference.
2. Moral stories
(compare to Kohlberg's moral dilemmas)
Typically this would involve pairs of stories being
read to the child, followed by questions.
A little boy who is called John is in his room.
He is called to dinner. He goes into the dining room. But behind the door was a
chair, and on the chair there was a tray with 15 cups on it. John couldnít have
known that there was all this behind the door. He goes in, the door knocks
against the tray, bang go the fifteen cups, and they all get broken!
One day a little boy called Henry tried to get some jam out of the cupboard when
his mother was out. He climbed onto
a chair and stretched out his arm.
The jam was too high up and he couldnít reach it.
But while he was trying to get it he knocked over a cup.
The cup fell down and broke.
A little girl called Marie wanted to give her mum a nice surprise and so she cut
out a piece of sewing for her. But
she didnít know how to use the scissors properly and she cut a big hole in her
A little girl called Margaret went and took her motherís scissors one day when
her mother was out. She played with
them for a bit and then, as she didnít know how to use them properly, she made a
hole in her dress.
stages of moral development
(0 to 3 years)
The child has
little concept of morality or rules. Compare to Freudsí oral stage.
or moral realism (4 to 10 years)
childís moral reasoning is governed by external rules laid down by
others. See table below for more detail. Basically they believe in
expiatory punishment, i.e. the naughtier the behaviour the greater the
punishment should be and in immanent justice, the idea that if a child is
naughty they will suffer for it somehow. An example; if a child steals
sweets on Monday, then falls and breaks their leg on Tuesday, then this
would be justice.
or moral relativism (10 years onwards)
now has a more flexible view of rules and morality. Crucial differences
include the idea that the punishment should be tailored to fit the crime
and the ideas that it is intentions rather than consequences that
determine the severity of the crime.
*Note the ages here do vary from text to text!
are fixed and cannot be changed or broken.
are more flexible and can change so long as everyone agrees to the
change. Child recognises that at times it is necessary to tell fibs
as this may prevent greater upset etc.
are created by older children, adults or even by God.
are in fact created by people just like themselves.
are seen as being more important than intentions. For example John is
seen as naughtier because he breaks more cups
Intentions are now considered more than outcomes. Older children see
Henry as being naughtier because he was misbehaving.
Consequences determine the severity of the crime, e.g. John is
naughtier than Henry because he broke more cups.
Intentions determine the severity of the crime, e.g. Henry is
naughtier than John because he was misbehaving at the time.
Expiatory punishment: no attempt to fit the punishment to the crime
Reciprocal punishment: attempts to fit the punishment to the crime,
e.g. buying new dress for sister if boy has torn it at a bad taste
children progress from heteronomous to autonomous
1. As I
said at the outset, Piaget believed that moral development occurs on the
back of cognitive development. One result of this is the move away from
egocentric thought. At about the age of seven years the child begins to
learn that other people see the World differently to themselves. This
allows a greater appreciation of other points of view
As children get
older they listen to the views expressed by others and begin to realise
that their own opinions can be questioned. At an earlier age children
mostly accept the views of their parents as fact. This is one reason why
racist and homophobic opinions persist for so long in a changing society.
Research evidence in support of Piaget
mentioned much of the research was carried out by Piaget himself.
Constanzo (1973) used moral stories simialr to those of
piaget with an emphasis on intentions and consequences. Similar results
were found, including simialr age ranges.
Shaffer (1993) again found that all children appear to go
through the same fixed stages.
Kruger (1992), Freddy to his friends, found that girls
paired with people their own age showed more sophisticated moral
reasoning than those paired with an adult.
Unlike with his theory of cognitive development, there was
no revision or update of Piagetís views on moral development. Piaget, was
very much a pioneer in the area. He was the first to suggest links
between morality and cognitive development and others have built on this,
so yet again we have a Piagetian theory taht can be described as
influential! Piagetís methods, such as stories, have also been used by
later researchers such as Kohlberg.
Many researchers disagree with the Ďages and stagesí aspect
of the theory.
et al (1983) disagree that the childís moral reasoning does not mature
after the age of 10.
& Turiel (1980) found that children as young as 3 are prepared to alter
the rules of a geme, providing that others agree.
As we all know, and as Weston & Turiel point out, children
of any age do not always obey rules without question, as Piaget suggests!
Nelson (1980) points out that in Piagetís stories the
emphasis is placed on the consequences and not the intentions. It seems
that young children assume that negative outcomes must be caused by
negative intentions. However, when intentions are made clear, even to
children as young as three, they are able to separate this from outcomes.
Piaget underestimated the ability of his children because he didnít place
as much emphasis on intentions as he did on outcomes.
Armsby (1971) found that many children as young as six are
able to judge intention as crucial in naughty behaviour. 60% judged a
child who deliberately broke a cup as being just as more naughty than a
child who accidently breaks a TV.
Irwin & Moore (1971) believe that children in the
heteronomous stage have a better understanding of punishment than Piaget
believed. Children as young as three can distinguish between deserved and
importantly, and this criticism can be made of Kohlberg too, Piaget
assumed that a childís behaviour would match their beliefs. By simply
asking their views Piaget did not see how they behaved in practice. Again
as we all know, what we say and what we actually do in
practice can be very different!