Development of Moral Reasoning and Self-Control from Birth through Adolescence Carol Robson
Ferbruary 9, 2015
Development of Moral Reasoning and Self-Control from Birth through Adolescence
There are several widely accepted major theories of moral development, and each one is based on the concept of stages of growth and advancement. All the theories correlate stages of moral development with the concurrent stages of cognitive development and maturation that seem necessary to their emergence. A stage is defined as “a period in development in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and establish particular capacities. … People pass through stages in a specific order, with each stage building on capacities developed in the previous stage … Stages are related to age … Development is discontinuous, with qualitatively different capacities emerging in each stage” (Theories of development, 2014).
Kohlberg divided moral development into three levels, each consisting of two stages. The first level, which he designated as Preconventional, occurs during the first seven or eight years of life (Piaget’s Sensorimotor and Preoperational stages). Kohlberg believed that the first stage in children’s moral understanding is based solely on a belief in authority figures and on what behaviors are punished (Boyd & Bee, 2014, p. 307). Piaget called this the Moral Realism stage “which he found to be typical of children younger than 8, [who] believe that the rules of games can’t be changed because they come from authorities, such as parents, government officials, or religious figures (Boyd & Bee, 2014, p. 305).
Kohlberg’s second stage moves the child into an area where “[d]eals and compromises with others are sometimes used to solve problems … Revealing a hedonistic orientation, morally right behavior depends on what satisfies one’s own desires. In both stages in level 1 the child is egoistic/ a hedonist.” (Mwale, 2010). This corresponds with the “hedonistic reasoning” stage in Eisenberg’s Model of Prosocial Reasoning “in which the child is concerned with self-oriented consequences rather than moral considerations” (Boyd & Bee, 2014, p. 312).
From a psychosocial viewpoint, Kohlberg’s and Piaget’s theories correspond to Erikson’s theory of development, beginning with his “Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt … Between the ages of three and six, children must learn to control their impulses and act in a socially responsible way. If they can do this effectively, children become more self- confident. If not, they may develop a strong sense of guilt” (Theories of Development, 2014). Learning to control impulses and to act responsibly are necessary components in the development of moral maturity. Erikson designates the stage between six and twelve as Industry vs. Inferiority, in which he observed children absorbing “cultural skills and norms” (Boyd & Bee, H., 2012. p. 234). Kohlberg’s model correlates with this as children move into the second level and third stage of moral development. This is the “interpersonal-concordance orientation/Good boy or Good girl orientation … Moral reasoning is guided by mutual interpersonal expectations and conformity. People try to do what is expected of them. The concern is to meet external social expectation. [The] [c]oncept of ‘right’ is there but nobody has the right to do evil. Intentions become more important in judging a person’s behaviour” (Mwale, 2010). Kohlberg’s fourth stage segues into “Social system and conscience … Moral actions are those so defined by larger social groups or the society as a whole. One should fulfill duties one has agreed to and uphold laws, except in extreme cases” (Boyd & Bee, H., 2012. p. 307). Piaget called this the Concrete Operational stage in which “[c]hildren's thinking becomes less egocentric and they are increasingly aware of external events … During this stage, however, most children still can't...
References: Theories of development. (2014). Retrieved from sparknotes website:
Boyd, D., Bee, H., (2012). The developing child, (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Mwale, M., (2010). Moral reasoning during adolescence – some analytical considerations: Moral reasoning in adolescents: some analytical considerations. Retrieved from The Research Cooperative website:
Benaroch, R., (2014). Piaget stages of developmen. Retrieved from WebMD website:
Oswalt, A, Zupanick, C.E., (2015). Erik Erikson and self-identity. Retrieved from Seven Counties Services, Inc. website:
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