How Moral Are You?

by Elaine and Jessica

How Moral Are You? - The Neuron
How Moral Are You?

Theoretical Propositions

Research on the formation of morality was most influentially done by Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg, using the work of Piaget as a starting point, believed that the uniquely human ability to make moral judgments develops in a predictable way during childhood. He also asserted that morality is aquired in developmental stages, or "structural moral stages in childhood and adolesence" as he referred to.
1) each stage is uniquely different kind of moral thinking and not just an increased understanding of an adult concept of morality
2) the stages always occur in the same step by step sequence so no stage is ever skipped and never is in backward progress.
3) the children comprehend all stages below their own and have understanding of no more than one stage above. They cannot understand higher stages.


How Moral Are You? - The NeuronKohlberg presented children of varying ages with 10 hypothetical moral dilemmas and asked them questions about these moral dilemmas. One of the dilemma is the following:

Joe's father promised he could go to camp if he earned the $50 for it, and then changed his mind and asked Joe to give him the money he had earned. Joe lied and said he had only earned $10 and went to the camp using the other $40 he had made. Before he went, he told his younger brother, Alex, about the money and about lying to his father. Should Alex tell their father?

Visual Overview of Method


Based on the children's statements, Kohlberg defined six stages of moral development. These six stages
[Untitled] are found into three moral levels, in premoral level, morality of conventional role-conformity, and morality of self-accepted moral principles.
Level 1 Premoral level: Characterized by egocentrism and personal interest. In stage 1, children fail to recognize the interest of others and behaves morally only out of fear of punishment for bad behavior. In stage 2, children behave morally in order to get moral behavior back.
Level 2 Morality of Conventional Role-Conformity: The child recognizes one's role in interpersonal relationships. In stage 3, the child behaves morally in order to live up to the expectations of others and maintain relationships that contain trust and loyalty. In this stage, when the Golden-Rule thinking begins, child becomes concerned about the feelings of others. Stage 4 begins with child's recognition of the respect for rule and order.
Level 3 Morality of Self-Accepted Moral Principles: In level 3 development, judgment about morality begin to transcend formal societal laws. In stage 5, recognition takes place that some laws are better than others.


The new conceptualization clarified how children actively organzie the morality of the world around them in a series of predictable, sequential stages. Morality isn't about adults teaching morality or through verbal educaiton. Children's interaction with the social and cultural environments made the cognitive moral structres of morality. By step-by-step structure, children don't learn morality but construct it, from stage 1 to 2, and from 2 to 3.

Related Research

Kohlberg based his research on Jean Piaget's work of logical stages. (Listed below)

  • Even if Kohlberg was correct in his ideas about moral reasoning, this does not mean they can be applied to moral behavior. Therefore, what a person says is moral may not be reflected in the perHow Moral Are You? - The Neuronson’s moral actions.
  • Criticism on Kohlberg’s claim on the six stages of moral reasoning are universal. These stages are found in Western individualistic societies, so would not apply to the non-Westerners. However, in defense of the universality of Kohlberg’s claims, it was found that other cultures, too, passed through the stages in the same sequences, from stage 1 to 5.
  • The third area of criticism was on gender. Carol Gilligan pointed out that women talked more than men about interpersonal relationships, responsibly for others, putting much importance on relationships. Therefore women score lower on Kohlgberg’s scale.
Recent Applications

Current studies employ Kohlberg’s models in the area of law and criminal justice. Another study sought to refine Kohlberg’s ideas by examining the effects of an adult onlooker’s reaction to children’s and young adults’ judgments of the emotions of a person who engaged in a wrongful act.

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