Notes for Moral Development, Values & Religion
School of Family and Consumer Sciences 400.404/504    Instructor: D. Witt

Moral development is a multifaceted aspect of individual growth involving cognition, behavior, motivation, and self-assessment based on personal interpretations of right and wrong. The thoughts, feelings, and behavior of moral development are interrelated. Further, moral development concerns rules and values about what people should do in their interactions with others along three domains, or dimensions:

  • Reasoning: the cognitive aspects of our thoughts and behaviors
  • Behavior: the actions we take based on reasoning, and
  • Feelings: the emotional aspects of our thoughts and actions

Reasoning - The first domain of Moral Development
How do adolescents think about ethical issues and morality

In his early research Piaget asked children (ages 4 to 12) about ethical issues - stealing, lying, punishment, and justice. Often he would tell a story involving a moral dilemma to a child, then ask them what the main character should do. For example: Having to steal money to by medicine for an ailing mother. He concluded that children think in distinct ways depending on their age and stage of cognitive development:
  • Heteronomous morality - (4 to 7) Justice and rules are conceived of as unchangeable properties - removed from the control of people - the consequences of behavior are all that matter.
    • Immanent justice - if a rule is broken, punishment will follow immediately
  • Autonomous morality - (10 and older) The child is aware that rules and laws are created by people. Further, in judging an action, a person should consider the actor's intentions, as well as the consequences of the action. 
    • Situational justice - punishment sometimes doesn't follow at all. Sometimes the guilty go free. Sometimes innocent people are punished unfairly.
Cognitive Disequilibrium - Martin Hoffman (1980), using Piaget's principles, defined a situation in which many adolescents find themselves. Cognitive Disequilibrium describes the contradictions many teenagers are facing as they enter high school. Adolescents come to realize that their beliefs are only one set of many possible truths, causing them to sometimes doubt their own positions on ethical issues.  Ultimately adolescents will begin to create new sets of beliefs based on a combination of what they'd been taught, their experience in real life, and that which they are beginning to understand.

Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development
Borrowing heavily from Piaget's Cognitive Development Theory, Lawrence Kohlberg set out a stage type theory for moral development. He arrived at his theory after many years of study, interviewing children of various ages and asking them to solve fictitious moral dilemmas:
Once there was a boy who came from a poor family. His mother was very ill and needed medicine, which had to be purchased at a very high price from a local pharmacy. .Neither the boy, nor anyone in his family had any money and the pharmacist would take only cash in order to supply the medicine. The boy decided to steal money from the offering box at a local church in order to buy the medicine his mother needed. 

Kohlberg's theory is also based around the idea of internalization. It goes like this: Early on, as the child acquires language in preoperations, his/her behavior is largely externally controlled (*i.e., "You're gonna get in trub-bull!. Over time, as the child moves through higher level thought processes, his/her behavior is increasingly guided by internalized, personally created guidelines. At the most extreme, internally guided individuals are able to decide moral dilemmas based on their own version of right and wrong. Kohlberg described three levels of qualitatively distinct aspects of moral reasoning.

  • Level 1: Preconventional Reasoning—reasoning is based on external rewards and punishment - the lowest level. No internalization of moral values
    • Stage 1: Heteronomous morality—morality is based on avoidance of punishment - Children under the age of 9 are usually here.
    • Stage 2: Individualism, instrumental purpose, and exchange—mutual pursuit of own interests- thinking is based on self-interest and rewards
  • Level 2: Conventional Reasoning—morality is based on internal values and external standards
    • Stage 3: Mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and interpersonal conformity—value for trust, caring, and loyalty - - Children want to be "good boys and girls" for their parents and others. Most adolescents are here by age 13 or so.
    • Stage 4: Social systems morality—value for the social order, law, justice, and duty - Late adolescence.
  • Level 3: Postconventional Reasoning—the highest level of thinking, morality is completely internalized and not based on others' standards.
    • Stage 5: Social contract or utility (community rights) versus  individual rights—explores options, makes own decision - values and laws are relative and vary from one situation to the next. 20-22 year-olds.
    • Stage 6: Universal ethical principles—conscience decides conflict between law and conscience- the very highest developmental stage where the individual is completely guided by his/her own moral standard - based on universal human rights and obligations. Very rare in the population - occuring by late 40s if at all.
Kohlberg hypothesized that the moral orientation of youngsters evolves in conjunction with cognitive development and external factors such as cognitive conflict, peer relations, and role-taking opportunities.

Criticisms of Kohlberg's theory - Kohlberg’s critics argue that he places too much emphasis on thought versus behavior. Kohlberg’s theory does not show respect for cultural traditions found in eastern or third world countries - and thus is culturally biased. . It is not clear that students can apply Kohlberg’s dilemmas to their daily experiences. Gilligan proposes that Kohlberg places too much emphasis on the Western justice perspective, and too little appreciation is shown for the care perspective. Another perspective recognizes the distinction between moral reasoning and social-conventional reasoning. Social conventional reasoning focuses on thoughts about social consensus and convention whereas moral reasoning emphasizes ethical issues. 

Also, it can easily be argued that in reality, the cultural definition of morality actually changes over time, depending on the larger culture. For example, in 1932 a man contracted to build a new high school for the county. He promised to produce the building for a set amount of money and on time. Costs were overrun and delays were encountered that were not the contractor's fault, yet he continued the work at his own expense until the work was complete - resulting in his bankruptcy. Today few contractor would continue to keep his/her promise if it meant the loss of his company, and more importantly, no one would expect the contract to be honored, and furthermore, many would view such honor as idealistic and foolish..

Gender Differences - Carol Gilligan's research on the cognitive and moral development of girls indicates that Kohlberg did not dealt too stridently with the Justice Perspective (that individual stands alone in making moral judgements). Her perspective is the Care Perspective in which people are viewed in terms of their connectedness with others, emphasizing interpersonal communication, relationships with, and concerns for, others. Her research with girls ages 6 to 18 indicates that they consistently interpret moral dilemmas in terms of human relationships. Around the time of adolescence, girls begin to realize that their intense interest in intimacy is not prized by the male-dominated culture, thus they become closet nurturers. As a student of Kohlberg's, Gilligan sees her criticisms as positive and a matter of extending a theory to embrace more of the social world (a world less likely to embrace girls, for example).

Behavior - The 2nd Domain of Moral Development.
What is the actual behavior regarding moral treatment of others? From the behavioral perspective, moral behavior depends on consistency of consequences, clarity of societal rules, quality of the modeled behavior, and competency of the adolescent. Models of moral behavior include parents, peers, and media figures. Competencies are based on cognitive capacity, demonstrated behavior, and awareness of morality rules.

Social cognitive theory emphasizes the distinction between moral thought and moral action; that is, performing moral behavior when it is warranted. Altruism seems to develop from reciprocity in personal experiences; having experienced help, care, and forgiveness from others, an adolescent is able to offer the same assistance to others. Moral behavior is reinforced in the culture. Punishments are feared and rewards are sought. Through personal and vicarious experiences, children come to know right and wrong in terms of what is punished and that which is rewarded. Models for behavior are important here. The general model presented to a generation of teenagers will determine their sense of right and wrong. This stands in opposition to the idea of universal morality. In other words, what people think is right isn't necessarily how they behave. Your text offers a study that displays the gulf between moral thinking and moral behavior. In it adults were asked

Conversely, studies have also been done in a more realistic manner. In one version of the morality test, several wallets were deposited around a college campus, a busy downtown area, and a shopping mall. The wallets each contain identification of a fictitious person with an address and phone number and $20 in cash. In each case, 80% of the wallets were returned, and the majority were returned with the money inside! The moral of these two bits of research is this: People will behave in a moral fashion if we (society) making it a little easier to be moral. It is a situational thing. Returning a wallet is easy to do and feels good in the doing. Cheating on one's spouse is a much more complicated endeavor (what if the spouse is really mean, or unloving)..

Moral Feelings - the 3rd domain of Moral Development
How do adolescents feel about moral matters -not thinking, but feelings.

Psychoanalytic theory - Superego pours on the guilt when our Id wins out over ego. All three work to some extent, however the most lasting positive lessons are learned through induction. Psychoanalytic theory focuses on how the superego, the moral branch of the personality, is influenced by components of the superego called the ego ideal and conscience. According to Freud, parents influence moral development by employing love withdrawal and power assertion. These punitive strategies have not been found to be as effective as induction, explaining responsibility as it relates to consequences for others. Empathy is an emotional response that depends on perspective to understand the emotional condition of others. A lack of empathy correlates highly with antisocial and violent behavior. Many developmentalists believe that the contrast between positive sympathetic and negative shameful feelings contributes to adolescents’ complete moral development.

Child-rearing Techniques and Moral Control
  1. Love Withdrawal - is a dicipline technique in which a parent removes attention or love from the child when the child misbehaves.
  2. Power assertions - a parent attempts to control the child via physical punishments or removing privileges.
  3. Induction - the parent uses reason and explanation of the consequences for others of the child's actions.
Parenting Moral Children and Adolescents A recent research view concluded that, in general, moral children tend to have parents who (Eisenberg & Valiente, 2002, p. 134):
  • Are warm and supportive rather than punitive.
  • Use inductive discipline.
  • Provide opportunities for the children to learn about others’ perspectives and feelings.
  • Involve children in family decision making and in the process of thinking about moral decisions. . . .
  • Model moral behaviors and thinking themselves, and provide opportunities for their children to do so.
  • Provide information about what behaviors are expected and why.
  • Foster an internal rather than an external sense of morality.
The moral exemplar approach considers the development of personality, character, and virtue in terms of moral excellence. Recent research investigating the personalities of exemplary young adults found them to be advanced in forming an identity and in moral development, more agreeable, and more open to entering into close relationships. Families and schools are important contexts for moral development. Parents play a primary role in moral development. Parents who use induction as a form of discipline will encourage positive moral development. Moral education is recognized as an aspect of instruction that occurs consciously and overtly as well as unconsciously or covertly.
  • Hidden curriculum—creates an atmosphere covertly teaching ethical and unethical behavior.
  • Character education—teaches moral behavior and avoidance of behavior that harms self or others.
  • Values clarification—helps students identify purpose and merit in their lives.
  • Cognitive moral education—develops democratic values such as cooperation, trust, and responsibility.
  • Service learning—incorporates the community to provide applied learning settings that shift the focus from the student to those who require the skills the student must learn.
Values, Religion, and Spiritualistic Cults as a By-Product of Moral Development
Values are reflected in one’s beliefs in politics, religion, money, friends, career, and self-respect. Values change with time, and the current trend is toward concern for self over concern for others. Healthy personal adjustment depends on self-fulfillment and strong commitment to others.Adults usually introduce religion to present moral and ethical ideals and to maintain religious tradition. A majority of adolescents report engaging in religious behavior and believe that religion is important. Religious organizations help adolescents with identity formation. Piaget’s cognitive developmental theory may be applied to developmental processes that children demonstrate as they acquire knowledge about biblical figures, moral concepts, and hypothetical understanding of religious material. They are preoperational intuitive religious thought (unsystematic and fragmented), concrete operational religious thought (focused on literal details), and formal operational religious thought (abstract, hypothetical religious understanding). Fowler’s theory of religious development focuses on how individuals find meaning in their lives. Religious adolescents demonstrate greater self-discipline in avoiding premarital sex and other risky behavior, but are less likely to use contraception if they are sexually active.

Religions concepts are powerful moral teachers for adolescents and should not be overlooked by parents, educators, or social control agents. Teenagers are keenly sensitive to, and aware of, religious ideas as they struggle to achieve their identity. Religious beliefs offer a ready made set of values, through teachings, religious books, and collective behavior (religious rituals and services), for adolescents to rely upon withouth too much thought. Despite the wisdom of most religious perspectives, there is a danger that the individual will cease thinking for themselves and simply accept religious dogma whole-cloth.

Even among the most widely accepted forms of religion - Protestantism, Catholicism, Judiasm, Hinduism, and Islamic faiths - have factions of zeal. Each one also has tenets (distinctive rules) that may not serve the individual's needs. For example, 80% of Catholic women either use or support the use of contraceptives. 75% of all American women are in favor of abortion under certain conditions. In other words, there is the real world in which we all live, and there is the ideal world we all would like to live in. Religion can help us close this gap - and it can also serve to widen it.

Cults have always been operating in our society. In fact, most Protestant faiths were, at one time or another, splinter groups or cults. The Lutheran Church, a fine organization that offers comfort and guidance to millions of people, started out as a splinter group of Catholicism when Martin Luther nailed his complaints to the door of the church. Cults offer alternative affiliations and values that may be characterized as dangerous or deviant. Cults serve the members of the group, not the community or nonmembers. Cult leaders use overbearing authoritarian methods, are deceptive and coercive, and replace a previous identity with a new identity that would not have been acceptable initially. Most members of cults are psychologically healthy.

If the philosophy and theology is sound enough, a cult will endure to full religion status. Latter day cults almost always have at their center the idea of controlling the minds of the converted for purposes of gaining control of their personal finances. The Mexican satanic cult mentioned in your textbook was almost immediately revealed as a front for a drug sales and distribution operation. The standard operating procedure for most cults is to draw in converts at their most sensitive and vulnerable times - as adolescents. These teenagers, intensely interested in achieving some resolution for the contradictions and dissapointments they experience, are easy targets. Once recruited, these kids are immediately put to work - selling flowers, peddling books at the airport, or even selling their bodies in some cases - for the glorification of some self-styled messenger of god.

The kind of youth drawn to cults have some common traits: idealism, innocence, inquisitiveness, isolated or alienated from their families, seeking identiy,  insecure and sometimes these kids just don't "fit in" with the normal crowd.   According to the text, there are about 2500 cults with a religious base, operating in the U.S. today. In addition, there are many Cult-like organizations such as separatists, hate groups, and nationalists, which intermingle issues of race, anti-government sentiments, and old-time religion.