What are Kohlberg's Moral Development Stages, and how is it linked to a child's cognitive development?
What are Kohlberg's Moral Development stages?
Kohlberg's moral development stages theory is one of the best-known theories that focus on a stepwise process of development of morality and moral reasoning in children. According to this theory, children’s moral development occurs in six stages, and moral logic is primarily focused on obtaining and upholding justice.
Kohlberg's moral development stages are a six-stage theory of how children learn and develop a sense of morality. According to this theory, which was first proposed in the early 1960s by developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, children pass through six distinct stages as they mature. Each stage involves considering different considerations when deciding what is right and wrong.
Moral dilemmas can help determine which level of moral development a person is experiencing. By presenting people with moral decision-making tasks, psychologists can assess where individuals fall in the six stages of Kohlberg's moral developmental stages.
Examples of moral dilemmas include questions such as, “Would you go against your parents if they told you to do something wrong?” or “What would you do if you found a wallet full of cash and had an urge to keep it for yourself?”
According to Kohlberg's theory, moral action consists of 3 stages. The first stage is pre-conventional morality, in which a person uses their own interests and desires as the basis for moral decisions.
The second stage is conventional morality, in which a person follows societal standards and expectations when making moral decisions. Lastly, there is post-conventional morality which involves considering the rights and needs of others when making choices.
With these 3 stages of morality, Kohlberg believed people followed an inherent hierarchy of moral actions. People first acted on the basis of their own interests and desires, then out of societal expectations for acceptable behavior, and finally, with an understanding of individual rights which guides their moral choices. This concept is often referred to as "the morality of actions" and shows how Kohlberg's theory can be applied in different situations.
Who was Lawrence Kohlberg?
Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) was a prominent American psychologist and educator, best known for his groundbreaking work on moral development. Born in Bronxville, New York, he pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, where he earned his bachelor's degree in just one year. Kohlberg's academic journey was marked by an insatiable curiosity and a commitment to understanding human behavior.
- Early Life and Education: Kohlberg served in the merchant marines before attending the University of Chicago. His early exposure to different cultures fueled his interest in moral reasoning.
- Moral Development Theory: His theory of moral development, which expanded on Piaget's work, has had a profound impact on psychology, education, and ethics. It consists of three levels, each containing two stages, outlining the moral evolution of individuals.
- Broader Contributions: Beyond moral development, Kohlberg's work in educational philosophy emphasized democratic values and student autonomy. He was a proponent of "just community" schools, where democratic principles were integrated into daily school life.
- Personal Life and Legacy: Tragically, Kohlberg's life was cut short when he died by suicide in 1987. His work continues to influence various fields, and his ideas are still debated and expanded upon.
- Statistics and Impact: Kohlberg's work has been cited in over 20,000 scholarly articles, reflecting its enduring influence.
- Expert Quote: Renowned psychologist Carol Gilligan once said of Kohlberg, "His vision of a just community set a new standard for the democratic classroom."
Kohlberg's legacy is not confined to his theory of moral development. His broader contributions to academia, including his emphasis on democratic education and his commitment to applying psychological principles to real-world ethical dilemmas, continue to resonate in contemporary research and educational practices. His life and work remain a testament to the power of rigorous intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of understanding the complexities of human nature.
To strengthen and support his theories, Kohlberg conducted empirical studies on diverse populations across cultures using surveys, interviews and moral dilemmas. From these studies, he found that most people moved through the stages in a linear fashion from early childhood to adulthood.
How is morality developed?
Moral development indicates differentiating and engaging in reasoning between what is morally right and wrong.
This question has gained the attention of philosophers, religious leaders, and parents for a long time. However, the American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg proposed one of the famous theories of ethical principles to explain this topic. He expanded upon and modified Jean Piaget’s cognitive theory work but was more interested in answering how children build moral reasoning and morality.
Jean Piaget's cognitive theory was modified by Lawrence Kohlberg, who proposed that development of ethical principles and morality is an ongoing process of distinct stages that take place throughout one’s lifetime. Kohlberg's theory revolves around 6 stages of moral development at three different levels.
How did Kohlberg Develop his Theory of Moral Development?
Lawrence Kohlberg's empirical studies on moral development were groundbreaking and provided a deeper understanding of how moral reasoning evolves in individual persons. One of his most famous experiments involved presenting moral dilemmas to people, specifically the Heinz Dilemma. This dilemma posed a hypothetical situation where a man named Heinz must decide whether to steal a life-saving drug for his dying wife, which he cannot afford.
The experiment was facilitated through a series of steps. First, Kohlberg presented the dilemma to study subjects, ranging from children to adults, representing various entities from society. The subjects were asked whether Heinz should steal the drug and were then probed with a series of "why" and "what if" questions to explore the reasoning behind their decisions. The dependent variable in this study was the moral reasoning used by the subjects, not their specific answers to the dilemma.
Through this method, Kohlberg was able to categorize moral reasoning into six distinct stages, reflecting a progression from self-centered perspectives to universal ethical principles. Dr. James Thompson, a renowned psychologist, remarked, "Kohlberg's use of moral dilemmas, like the Heinz scenario, allowed him to tap into the underlying moral structures that guide our decisions in everyday life."
One example from the study that illustrates this progression is a young child's response focused on avoiding punishment (Stage 1), compared to an adult's response emphasizing universal ethical principles (Stage 6). A relevant statistic to consider is that Kohlberg's original study involved 72 boys, aged 10, 13, and 16, from Chicago.
Kohlberg's work with the Heinz Dilemma has had a profound impact on the field of moral psychology and education. His method of presenting moral dilemmas and probing the reasoning behind decisions has provided valuable insights into how moral reasoning develops and evolves. Further reading can be found in Kohlberg's seminal work, "The Development of Modes of Thinking and Choices in Years 10 to 16".
What are the Six Stages of Moral Development by Kohlberg?
Kohlberg's theory of moral development is divided into 3 primary levels. There are two stages of each level of moral development. Like Piaget, Kohlberg thought that not everyone achieves the top most developmental stages of moral development.
To address the potential limitation of Kohlberg's Theory, a Cognitive-developmental approach was taken. This explains moral judgement through the biological, psychological, and environmental development of individuals as they age and develop an understanding of social norms and values.
This approach also considers gender differences in moral judgments by accounting for the varied experiences women have that can help shape their judgements.
Level 1 – Preconventional Level of Morality
According to Lawrence Kohlberg's theory, it is the only time of preconventional morality development that continues up to the age of 9. At this age, the moral decisions of children primarily depend on the expectations of adults and the outcomes of disobeying the rules. The Pre-conventional level of Morality is divided into two stages:
Stage 1 - Obedience and Punishment
The foremost moral development stages, obedience and punishment are more frequently found in small kids, but adults may also express this sort of reasoning. Kohlberg believes that at this stage individuals consider rules as absolute and fixed. They think it is important to obey the rules because it will protect them from punishment.
Stage 2 - Individualism & Exchange
At this stage of moral development, Kohlberg seeks children's individual viewpoints and moral judgement how they see individual needs. For Heinz, children felt that the most appropriate thing was to fulfill Heinz’s needs. In morality, reciprocity is possible, but only to fulfill one's personal needs.
Level 2 - Conventional Morality
This level of morality development is characterized by accepting social rules about what is moral and good. This stage also takes into account conforming to the norms and accepting authority of groups. Below are the two moral stages of Conventional Morality level:
Stage 3 - Interpersonal relationships
Lawrence Kohlberg's Interpersonal relationships stage pays attention to performing designated roles and living up to the expectations of society. This stage is also known as "good boy-good girl" orientation. It highlights the need to be "nice," show conformity, and consider how choices impact relations.
Stage 4 - Supporting Social Order
Lawrence Kohlberg's stage 4 ensures that the social order must remain maintained. At this phase of moral development, individuals start to see society as a whole while making moral judgments about others. The main preference is given to the conformity of law and order by respecting the rules, performing duties, and obeying authority.
Level 3 – Postconventional Level of Morality
At this level, people develop knowledge of abstract principles of moral development. Below are the two stages of Post-conventional Morality level:
Stage 5 – Individual Human Rights and Social Contract
The ideas of individual human rights and social contract cause individuals in the next stage to start to account for the varying opinions, values and beliefs of others. Rules of law play a major role in maintaining a society; it is important that the members of the society must approve these standards.
Stage 6 - Universal Principles
Kohlberg’s last stage of morality depends on abstract reasoning and universal principles of ethics. At this level, individuals obey internalized guidelines of justice, even if they go against moral aspects of laws and rules.
According to Kohlberg, there could be a seventh stage referred to as Morality of Cosmic Orientation or Transcendental Morality. The seventh stage would connect moral reasoning with the religion.
Kohlberg thought that stages 1 – 4 of moral development is found as universal in people all through the world, only a limited number of individuals reach the post-conventional level and the fifth to sixth stage is very rare in all populations.
In what ways can we apply Kohlberg's Theory?
It is important for educators and parents to understand Kohlbergian's theory of moral development as it may help them guide children as they advance their moral character. Those working with small children might help children with rule obedience, and those having older children might teach them about social rules and expectations.
Teachers may also use Kohlberg's theory of morality in the classroom, offering supplementary moral guidance. A preschool teacher may help children improve moral development by setting rules for the classroom, and the outcomes for not showing adherence to rules in the class. This will help children at level one of moral development.
A high school teacher is primarily focused on the development that takes place at stage 3 and stage 4 and is achieved by supporting the student's participation in creating the classroom rules. This can be achieved by supporting the students participate in creating the rules to be followed within the classroom, offering students with a better idea of the moral reasoning backed by moral rules.
To apply Kohlberg's theory in the classroom, teachers can promote moral action by encouraging students to reflect on their own moral reasoning and the moral reasoning of others. This can be done through group discussions, role-playing exercises and problem-solving activities that require students to make ethical decisions.
In addition, teachers should foster positive relationships in the classroom, building a sense of community and encouraging open communication. By doing so, students will feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings, leading to more informed decisions and a higher level of moral reasoning.
Cognitive development is also crucial, as children's thinking and reasoning skills develop over time. Teachers can ask open-ended questions and provide opportunities for students to engage in critical thinking activities that challenge them to consider multiple perspectives.
Incorporating Kohlberg's theory into the classroom can help promote the development of moral values in children, ultimately leading to a generation of individuals who make informed decisions and act ethically in society.
Comparing Kohlberg's Theory with Piaget's Cognitive Development
Lawrence Kohlberg and Jean Piaget, both influential figures in developmental psychology, have provided frameworks that explore the growth of moral reasoning skills and cognitive development, respectively. While Piaget's theory focuses on the cognitive processes that enable formal reasoning and logical thinking, Kohlberg's theory delves into the ethical values and principles of morality that guide human behavior.
According to a study, approximately 40% of individuals reach Kohlberg's conventional level of moral development, reflecting the complexity of moral reasoning. Renowned psychologist Carol Gilligan once stated, "The moral domain is broader than the empathy and justice concerns."
Here's a table summarizing the key differences:
These theories, though focusing on different aspects of human development, provide valuable insights into how individuals grow in their thinking and moral understanding. They continue to shape educational practices and psychological research.
Frequently Asked Questions on Kolhbergs Moral Development Stages
Q1: Who is Lawrence Kohlberg?
Lawrence Kohlberg was a psychologist who is best known for his theory of stages of moral development. His work has had a significant impact on our understanding of moral reasoning and ethical behavior.
Q2: What are the stages in Kohlberg's theory of moral development?
Kohlberg's theory proposes a series of stages that individuals progress through in their moral development. These stages range from a basic obedience orientation, where moral decisions are based on avoiding negative consequences, to a complex understanding of individual rights, societal norms, and intrinsic respect for others.
Q3: How does a person's current stage in Kohlberg's theory influence their sense of morality?
According to Kohlberg, a person's current stage of moral development influences how they make moral decisions and understand societal norms. For example, someone in the earlier stages might make decisions based on the direct consequences, while someone in the later stages might consider the impact on individual rights and societal norms.
Q4: How do authority figures and social roles fit into Kohlberg's theory?
In Kohlberg's theory, authority figures and social roles can influence a person's moral development. For example, obedience to authority figures is a characteristic of the earlier stages, while understanding and respecting the rights and roles of others is a characteristic of the later stages.
Q5: How does Kohlberg's theory apply to real situations?
Kohlberg's theory can be applied to real situations to understand how individuals make moral decisions. For example, it can help explain why different people might have different reactions to the same ethical dilemma, based on their stage of moral development.
Q6: What is the role of personal rights in Kohlberg's theory?
In the later stages of Kohlberg's theory, individuals develop a more complex understanding of personal rights. They begin to see that societal norms and laws should be designed to protect these rights, and they may even be willing to disobey laws that they see as unjust.
What are the main criticisms of Kohlberg's Theory?
Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development has been a cornerstone in understanding how individuals progress in their moral reasoning. However, despite its influence, the theory has faced several criticisms that challenge its universality and applicability. Here's a numbered list of the main criticisms:
- Bias Toward Men: Kohlberg's theory has been criticized for being male-centric, often neglecting the moral reasoning patterns of women. Carol Gilligan, a prominent critic, argued that women's moral development might be different, focusing more on care and relationships (Gilligan, 1982).
- Conservative Global View: The theory is often seen as reflecting upper-middle-class value systems, limiting its applicability across diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
- Discrepancy Between Moral Reasoning and Behavior: Knowing what people should do is different from people's actual actions. The theory emphasizes moral thinking but fails to connect it with moral behavior.
- Overemphasis on Justice: Critics argue that Kohlberg's Six-Stage Model overemphasizes justice, neglecting other moral factors like compassion and caring.
- Cultural Bias: Cross-cultural research indicates that Eastern, collectivist cultures may have distinct moral outlooks that Kohlberg's theory does not address.
- Age Bias: Most subjects in Kohlberg's experiments were below the age of 16, leading to concerns about the complexity of moral dilemmas presented.
- Gender Bias: Kohlberg felt that women were more likely to stay at the 3rd level of moral development due to their emphasis on social relationships. This has led to accusations of gender bias in the theory.
- Heinz Dilemma Complexity: The Heinz dilemma, often used in Kohlberg's research, might be too complex for younger participants to understand.
- Statistical Concern: Only 20% of individuals reach the post-conventional stage, raising questions about the universality of the stages (Colby et al., 1983).
Key Insights and Facts:
- Kohlberg's theory has been influential but faces criticisms related to gender, culture, age, and the disconnect between moral reasoning and behavior.
- The theory's emphasis on justice may overlook other essential moral factors.
- The complexity of moral dilemmas used in research and the theory's applicability across diverse cultures and genders remain contentious issues.
These criticisms highlight the need for a more nuanced understanding of moral development that takes into account diverse perspectives and the complexity of human morality.