Lecture 8: Moral Development

Moral Reasoning

Moral Reasoning

Piagets’ Cognitive Theory of Moral Development

  1. Pre-moral stage 0-5 years shows little concern for rules
  2. Moral realism 5-11 years shows respect for rules but applied inflexibly (difficulty understanding that rules are flexible/can change) and evaluate seriousness of act solely in terms of consequences

Moral Absolutism - Only right/wrong without consideration for context.

Imminent Justice - Deviation from rules will inevitably lead to punishment/retribution example- Fell off bike because stole candy

Egocentrim - Immature thought contributes to moral realism

3. Morality of reciprocity 11+ year = recognize rules can be questioned/changed, considers others’ views/feelings, equality/justice for all, consequence should relate to wrongdoer’s intentions + method of transgression example - Bump into someone by accident but said sorry

  • Method - read stories and ask kid if people in stories were equally guilty or which was guiltier. Why?
  • Evaluation of Piaget’s Theory
  • Research supports general development sequence described but-
  • Cross cultural variation in stages
  • May have underestimated abilities of young kids
  • Always mixes action outcome and actor intention

Kohlberg’s Cognitive Theory of Moral Development

  • Method - Present children with moral dilemmas and see what they do/why
  • Heinz’s dilemma - wife dying, company charging 10x more for drug, CEO refuses to take ½ cost what should Heinz do?
  • Stage like but doesn’t specify ages, some people may not reach all 6 stages, based off Piaget’s, sequence of stages is fixed but may occur at different ages
  1. Pre-conventional Level - Child’s behaviour is based on desire to avoid punishment/gain reward.
  2. Obedience Orientation - Morality defined by physical consequences; adults know right/wrong so follow rules and avoid trouble shouldn’t because wife will punishment.
  3. Instrumental Orientation - Self-serving conservation of rules to gain reward - do good to get something out of it; sharing/fairness so others will in return should because wife will do favour.
  4. Conventional Level - Child’s behaviour designed to solicit others’ appraisal/maintain good relations with child and accepts societal regulations unquestioningly and behaviour judged as good if conforms. They want approval/people to think they are good.
  5. Good Boy Morality - Interpersonal norms (expectations of others), dis/approval driven shouldn’t because disappoint mother or should because in-laws will like him.
  6. Social System Morality - Authority/morality/social roles/expectations maintain social order within society to promote good of all shouldn’t because illegal or should but accept jail time.
  7. Post-conventional Level - Moral judgement is rationalized/internalized. Conduct controlled by internalized ethical/moral code that’s relatively independent of others’ approval or punishment.
  8. Social Contract Orientation - Members of cultural group adhere to social contract because its benefits members but are invalidated if they don’t promote peoples’ welfare for/by people so change laws if not serving people should because right to life and reconsider law for prison time.
  9. Universal Ethical Principles - Morality of individual principles/conscience and personal moral code based on abstract principles like justice or equality or compassion that conflicts with societal laws/expectations sometimes should because saving life > saving profit but doesn’t want change.
  • 7 - year old usually stage 1
  • 10 - year old more in stage 1, 2, 3
  • 13-16 good boy/social contract but small amounts of stages 5-6
  • Received more support than Piaget’s theory
  • Most adults reach 2nd level but -Might be gender differences
  • People can be inconstant in their moral judgments
  • Stories may over simplify real life decision making
  • Promoting moral reasoning - Children’s moral judgement advance when (1) parents use consistent discipline that involves reasoning and explanations (2) model higher level moral behaviour (3) discuss moral issues and situations

Moral Behaviour

Self-regulation - Children’s’ ability to control behaviour their own without reminders from others

How does self-regulation develop?

  • Control Phase 12-18 Months - Dependent on caregivers to remind them of acceptable behaviours ex. Don’t hit them/eat that
  • Self-control Phase 2-year old - Able to comply with caregivers’ expectations in their absence
  • Self-regulation Phase 3-year old - Able to use strategies and plan own behaviour. Capable of delayed gratification ex. wants to hit someone but does something else instead
  • Delayed Gratification - Putting off possessing/doing something pleasurable until another time
  • Marshmallow Test - 1 now or 2 later 2/3 of 4-year old fail test in 15 min
  • 1/3 kids that pass is less likely to get divorced, overweight, addiction problems as adults + have better education & self-esteem as 20 - year old
  • Correlations between delayed gratification abilities and self-control, attention, planning, and SAT scores 11-14-year older
  • Influences on Self-control
  • SC relatively stable (same level in childhood and adulthood)
  • Linked to warm parenting styles where parent-kid interactions about discipline are dialogues with suggestions/negotiations not monologues
  • Lower SC when parents overly strict
  • Temperament has a role positive motivation from loved one for kids that are less afraid of consequences can promote SC
  • Improving Self-control - By reminding self of importance of long-term goals over short-term temptation and reducing attraction of tempting event (ex. avoids looking/divert attention)

Prosocial vs. Altruistic Behaviours

  • Prosocial Behaviour- Behaviour designed to help/ benefit others. May be some reward
  • Altruistic Behaviour- intrinsically motivated behaviour intended to help others without expectation of reward or acknowledgment
  • 10-12 months - Cry in response to others’ distress but not to help
  • 13-14 months - Will approach and comfort (ex. says booboo/ow, try to help)
  • 18 months - Actively offers help kids offering help more perspective taking, less ego centric. Child with more self-recognition is more prosocial and have more vocabulary -more cognitive development
  • Hamlin ET AL ’07 - Can infants evaluate a character based on prosocial or antisocial actions towards others?
  • Exp 1
  • 6-10- month old
  • Habituated to climber (red circle with eyes) tries to climb hill and is either helped by helper or hindered by hinderer.
  • On the 3rd attempt; bring both characters to baby

Almost 100% of 6-10- month old grabbed helper - attraction to helper and aversion to hinderers. preferred prosocial over antisocial.

Also used violation of expectations \rightarrow climber goes towards help/hinderer; if hinderer chosen it violates expectations.

10-month old looked longer when climber approached hinderer>helpers looked longer when climber approached hinderer > helper - 6-month old looked equally long to both events.

  • Exp 2 - Control exp = do kids just prefer helper-up motion > characters pushing downhill?
  • Repeat experiment with non-social inanimate red circle (no eyes).
  • Climber has no goals so behaviours of square/triangle (with eyes) shouldn’t be interpreted as help/hindering (just up/down).

No preference for grabbing in either age group = indicates preferences in experiment 1 were socially driven.

  • Exp3-
  • Do infants prefer helpers/dislike hinderers/both?
  • 6+10-month old
  • Choose between neutral and helper OR neutral and hinderer
  • Grabbing 6+10-month old chose helper>neutral AND neutral>hinderer - actively choosing helper & avoiding hindered

Violation of expectations \rightarrow both ages showed no preference

  • Scarf 2012 - Social evaluation or simple association?
  • Hinder trials have an aversive collision event when the climber collides with the hinder
  • Helper trials have collision event and a positive bouncing event when the climber reaches the top
  • Hamlin et al 2011 Summary
  • Not only do infants show preference for prosocial behaviour but the expect antisocial others to be punished
  • 5-month old uniformly prefer individuals acting positively to others
  • 8-month old selectively prefer characters acting positive to prosocial people and negatively to antisocial people
  • Video:
  • Infants prefer helper/3-month old look at helpers consistently prefer help and disapprove of antisocial puppets. 3-5-month old prefer helper as do 8-month old but latter also likes harmer of hinderer.
  • Another study, babies have positive feelings for puppets liking same as them and prefer harmer of puppets liking different food = bias to favour likeness is intrinsic and evolutionary predisposition for survival.
  • Other study- more tokens if equally distributed/less if take more than other children younger children choose less so they get more than other, older choose equal, 8-year old sacrifice and take less.


  • Behaviour that intentionally harms others by inflicting pain/injury on them.
  • Instrumental - A child uses aggression to achieve a specific goal quarreling/fighting over toys/possessions.
  • Hostile - Intimidate, provoked apparently its sole goal is to intimidate, harass or humiliate. aggressive behaviour directed towards another (name calling, criticism, etc.).
  • Reactive Aggression - One child’s behaviour leads to another child’s aggression.
  • Relational Aggression - Children try to hurt others by undermining social relationships (relies on language skills. Damaging/destroying interpersonal relationships, exclusion, gossip, spoiling reputations.
  • Boys - More overt (physical)
  • Girls - More relational

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