This paper will focus on two theories in moral development within developmental Psychology. There are three components to our morality; these are emotional, cognitive and behavioural. Shaffer (1993) described morals as a “set of principles or ideals that help the individual to distinguish right from wrong and to act on this decision” In his book ‘The Moral Judgement of the Child’ (1932), Piaget states that ‘all morality consists in a system of rules. ‘ Piaget believed that children develop morality through a series of stages and conducted an experiment using marbles with children.
He found younger children just accepted the rules of the game and didn’t question them but the older children (10+) did question the rules. Indicating as children progress with age so does there moral thinking. Piaget suggested that moral development is a mirror image of their cognitive development and the morality of younger children as heteronomous (subject to others laws and rules) and older children as autonomous (subject to one’s own laws and rules). The developmental psychologist Kohlberg (1958) expanded and refined Piaget’s earlier work.
He believed there are 3 levels and six sublevels of moral development. The three levels of morality that Kohlberg posited are Preconventional Morality, which suggests decisions are made by what rewards and punishments we will gain from our actions. Conventional Morality, which suggested that what good moral behaviour is judged by what the majority deem to be. Therefore, moral judgment can be based on what others think of you and laws and rules need to be obeyed to ensure social order. The final level is Postconventional Morality Laws and rules are decided by society as a whole through democratic process.
However, these laws/rules can be changed or broken if they are damaging to an individual. What is correct and moral in your own conscience and also conforms to what society as a whole has agreed is morally, ethically and legally acceptable. The rules can be amended or broken. Kohlberg theory was sequential. He believed you could not move from one stage to another without passing through each stage in order. He used the Heinz dilemma (The moral dilemma of whether a man should steal medicine for his dying wife) to show how his theory worked.
One of the disadvantages of Kohlberg’s theory is that it insinuates that people can place their own moral principles and beliefs above the laws of the society. Also Kohlberg’s theory did not take into account cross culture differences. Criticism comes mainly from Gilligan (1982) who believed that the theory was male bias (androcentric) and that the participants were being judged on male reasoning and behavior. Also women approach moral dilemmas from an ‘ethics of care’ approach rather than an ‘ethics of judgment’ which males tend to.
Another criticism is that people respond to real life dilemmas differently than they would to a hypothetical situation, they would tend to go for a more pleasing result or approach than in real life. Psychologist Albert Bandura (1961) conducted an experiment studying children’s behaviour through Social Learning Theory, observational learning or modelling; He did this using a ‘BoBo doll’. The children were taken into a room with either an adult male or adult female role model and shown the bobo doll. The role model would then show aggression to the doll by punching it or knocking it down.
Then the children were allowed to play with the doll. Bandura found that the children copied or imitated the behaviour of the role model. The children were very aggressive to the doll and in some cases showed higher levels of aggression towards the doll than the role model did. In the experiment the children were learning how to be aggressive without any direct tuition. Bandura stated that moral development in children is learned by observing, internalising and then copying the behaviour and moral judgements of the adults around them.
This was shown in the BoBo experiment by the children copying the aggressive behaviour towards the doll. The findings in Bandura’s experiment showed that children will replicate behaviour as a way of learning what is right and wrong reasoning. It also indicated that children will imitate behaviour they see in a model that is similar to them. The boys in the experiment displayed a gender bias showing a higher response rate to a male model than female. The limitations of Bandura’s study is that it was in a controlled environment that could be replicated and manipulated, controlled laboratory studies tend to have low ecologically validity.
Also the child and the model are strangers therefore the model has had no previous influence over the child’s moral reasoning. The ethical issue of the experiment is also a valid criticism, what is the long term, if any, effects of the experiment on the child. Will exposure to such aggression carry on in the child’s behavior? Although this is unlikely we cannot guarantee this. Mischel (1970) also supported Bandura’s SLT and he proposed that morals are learned through observational learning and direct tuition. Freud (1923) looked at moral development form a different point of view.
He looked at moral development from an emotional aspect. Freud suggested that your personality comprises of three parts, the id, dealing with selfish needs, such as aggression and sexual instincts. The ego, which is part of the id which has been refined and deals with decision making and the superego which acts like the ‘parent’ telling the person what is right and wrong. Freud theory suggests the more a child suffers the stronger its superego will be and this will subsequently make the person have a greater sense of morality, however Freud did not consider any cognitive factors and was gender bias towards boys.
The differences in moral values in people can be attributed to environmental factors one view provided by psychologist Wright (1994) is “when the environment is uncertain and unpredictable, it makes sense to build flexibility into the system rather than hard-wiring for particular moral values”. When we are born we have no understanding of what is morally right or wrong we are amoral. It has been suggested these develop over time and are formed by interactions and interpersonal relationships.
Therefore, both Kohlberg and Bandura have valid points in regards to our moral development and that our moral development becomes more refined and nuanced with age. However, taking into account Freud’s theory it could be said that nature also has implications on our moral development as well and should also be taken into consideration. Therefore, although all the theories looked at give an understanding into how moral development is achieved they are unable to predict the behaviour of an individual.
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