The relationship of moral reasoning to conduct problems and intelligence

Bear, George Gilbert, Department of Education, University of Virginia
Richards, Herbert, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Cruz Jr., José, University of Virginia
Kauffman, James, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Reeve, Ronald, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

The purpose of this study was to determine the way Kohlberg’s stages of moral reasoning is related to conduct problems and intelligence. According to Kohlberg's theory of moral development, children functioning at the pre-conventional level of moral reasoning (stages 1 and 2) have an orientation based on their self interest and the consequences of their actions. Their viewpoint is both egoistic and hedonistic. On the other hand, children reasoning at the conventional level (stages 3 and 4) realize that group interests, rules, and expectations are more important than the instrumental desires of the individual. They are oriented to please and help others, and to maintain the social order. It follows that children at the conventional level should be more inclined to exhibit adaptive classroom behaviors than those children at the pre-conventional level since their more advanced reasoning is likely to be based on the accepted standards and rules set forth by the school. One would also expect more intelligent children to be advanced morally, since both intelligence and moral reasoning involve similar cognitive processes. Kohlberg believes that brighter children should also demonstrate greater variability in their moral reasoning. If correct, then a curve linear relationship should be found between the two traits. This study tested the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1. Children functioning at the higher stages of moral reasoning display fewer conduct problems in the classroom than those functioning at the lower stages. Furthermore, higher stage children exhibit less variability in their conduct.

Hypothesis 2. Children with higher intelligence tend to employ higher stages of moral reasoning than those with lower intelligence. More specifically, the relationship between moral reasoning and intelligence is curve linear. The relationship is strongly positive with children of lower intelligence, but near zero with children of higher intelligence.

Furthermore, an exploratory objective which has less bearing on Kohlberg's approach but nevertheless is of broader interest determine if moral reasoning is related to the personality problem and inadequacy-immaturity dimensions of behavior.

Subjects were 60 sixth-·grade students in a central Iowa city. Moral reasoning was assessed by Kohlberg's Moral Judgment Interview Form A. The vocabulary scale of the Stanford Achievement Test was used as a measure of intelligence. Conduct problems, personality problems, and inadequacy-immaturity were assessed by teacher ratings on the Behavior Problem Checklist and SES information was obtained by use of the Warner Revised Occupational Rating Scale.

Hypothesis 1 was tested by an analysis of co-variance (controlling for intelligence, SES, and sex) and Bartlett's test of homogeneity. The hypothesis was supported: conduct problems were found to systematically decrease in frequency and variability with increasing moral maturity.

Hypothesis 2 was partially supported. A one-way analysis variance and a Scheffé
multiple comparison procedure revealed that children with higher intelligence were morally advanced. However, an analysis of co-variance revealed no significant differences after the influences of SES and sex were adjusted for. Variability in moral reasoning scores was similar across levels of intelligence. The relationship was found to be linear, not curve linear.

Moral reasoning was found not to be related to the personality problems and inadequacy-immaturity dimensions of behavior.

It was concluded that although the relationship found between moral reasoning and behavior was not strong, but of moderate magnitude, the findings do suggest that the use of Kohlberg's approach may be worthwhile, particularly when one considers that the other values and moral curriculum programs used in the schools have essentially no empirical foundation.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Moral development, Child psychology, School children
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