An Outline and Evaluation of Moral Development through Piagets Theory and the Social Learning Theory Piaget (1932) developed a major theory based on children’s cognitive methodology when approaching particular moral situations; using the game of marbles and moral stories/dilemmas to evaluate the moral development a child. In his evaluation he categorised children into three stages of moral development i. e. pre-moral (0-5yrs), Moral Realism (5-8/9yrs), Moral Relativism (+9yrs).
Concluding that children under five didn’t consider moral reasoning Piaget concentrated on the two latter stages. Piaget believed these stages are innate, they occur naturally; only through cognitive development will a child begin to move from moral realism to moral relativism. Moral realism is when a child has a heteronomous moral perspective with unilateral respect showing unconditional obedience to adults. They are egocentric and their moral judgement is based on consequences and intentions are not considered, with punishment being expiatory and usually unjustifiably severe.
When a child reaches the stage of moral relativism, they have an autonomous moral viewpoint, they understand mutual respect and that rules are made through social agreement. They are able to recognise that there is a grey area between right and wrong and their moral decisions are based on intentions rather than consequences. Punishment is reciprocal i. e. shows balance between severity of the crime and the punishment received. He noted the importance of a child’s social environment and their interaction without an authority figure e. . in the school playground, here they learn to negotiate conflict and will start to understand resolution/compromise. According to Wright (1971) Piaget’s theory is supposed to show how a child’s practical moral development occurs but the evidence in fact was based on theoretical morality. Piaget linked this through the concept of conscious realization e. g. children can talk using the correct grammar long before they realize that there are rules that govern grammar.
Implying that a child’s practical morality shapes their theoretical morality; an adult’s moral influence won’t affect but will only help and guide a child’s theoretical morality catch up with their practical morality. Armsby (1971) suggests young children understand intention and show awareness to avoid damaging valued items, older children find it easier to differentiate the relation between intention and damage. Piaget’s stories confounds intentions and consequences, when approached separately Constanzo et al. 1973) confirmed that with adult disapproval six year olds judged on consequence regardless of intention but with adult approval they as with older children will consider intentions. Notably, social consequences are related to parental tendencies as children generally will have more experience in dealing with ill-intended acts. To support Piaget’s theory, Kruger (1992, cited in Gross, 1996) tested conflict resolution amongst children with and without an authoritarian figures involvement by giving them two moral dilemmas and questioning them afterwards.
The children who had been paired with an adult had less real insight, lacking moral reasoning because they had given way to the adults understanding. When questioned afterwards, they had a less sophisticated stance-point than the children who had been paired together, showing the advantages attributable to egalitarian active discussion. As Piaget’s investigations were only based on a small amount of subjects, whereas Jose Linaza (1984) interviewed several hundred children in relation to a number of games; participants were from England and Spain, both boys and girls.
He re-affirmed Piaget’s findings but found that depending on the games complexity this determined what age certain stages become more apparent, another notable finding was there was no difference between the English and the Spanish children. Turiel (1998) critic’s Piagets methods regarding the moral dilemma questions used as a child would find it difficult to be morally judgemental because of the drastic difference in consequence. i. e. fifteen cups versus one cup, thus tempting the child to ignore intention.
Rule et el. (1974) shows that young children understand the difference in intention, particularly dependant on whether the act is pro-social or hostile i. e. if an aggressive act is in defence of another or not. Bandura, McDonald. (1963) doubted Piaget’s theory; in particular the concept of stages by explaining moral judgement through social learning theory, generally children imitated the models behaviour even if their reasoning differed.
As social learning theory involves the key factors attention, retention, reproduction and motivation and children are said to be able to imitate others behaviour through observational learning, since moral behaviour can be observed and imitated there will be a definite link between SLT and moral development. Bandura et al(1961, cited in Haralambos & Rice, 2002) Bobo Dolls studies on SLT were criticised due to the artificial conditions i. e. he subjects were not geographically selected at random thus pre conditioning could have influenced results and because of the nature of the Bobo Dolls (they sprung back when struck) the children could then have perceived the aggression the models showed towards the dolls as a game. Therefore, the need to have an understanding for the aggression was lacking and since the children observed no vicarious punishment (verbal or physical) they would have no need to make a judgement, they didn’t have any reason to dissuade them from performing the behaviour.
Interestingly, Langer (1975) replicating Banduras experiment concluded that his techniques confused the children. After viewing the model half of the children’s moral judgements remained the same and when they did change their explanations didn’t. When a child is trying to form identification they will associate with and imitate/model themselves on other people’s behaviour/mannerisms. Though this is not confined necessarily and exclusively to parents as other family members, siblings in particular together with peers will play a significant part in a child’s behaviour.
A child may imitate a complete stranger’s behaviour especially if vicarious reinforcement is shown as the child then has the motivation to imitate this particular behaviour. Children may imitate behaviour without the insight to make a moral judgement. Notably, Hoffman’s research observed that age dependant children are more likely to imitate a role models deviant behaviour rather than the models compliant behaviour, this emphasises a lack of moral development. (1970, cited in Bukatko & Daehler, 1998) Grusec et. l (1978) focused on whether or not a child would imitate a models good behaviour (donating/giving) with or without verbal instruction. What is shown in her results was that through observing, the majority of children, even without verbal instruction imitated the models behaviour. Nelson (1980) found that children as young as the age of three are able to make intentional based decisions regardless of consequence as long as information on intentions is made clear. Observational learning and principles of reinforcement can not adequately explain all aspects of moral development as a child’s cognitive processes are not fully explored.
As explained by Turiel (1983) in this study, children who receive punishment too late for non-compliant behaviour seems to show a leniency towards deviant behaviour, the late timing mentioned only seems to confuse the children, once again showing a lack of understanding/judgement. Insightfully, the above-mentioned studies on moral development confirm clearly that children even from a very young age imitate other people’s behaviour and whether they understand the intentions or consequences of any particular behaviour is questionable especially at a young age.
The concept of conscious realisation is a cognitive process which would only develop depending on the moral influences of a child’s socialization, emotional attachments, level of education and life experience. Bibliography Armsby, R. (1971) A re-examination of the development of moral judgements in children. Child Development, 42, 1242-1248 Bandura, A. & McDonald, F. J. (1963). Influence of social reinforcement and the behavior of models in shaping children’s moral judgments. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(3), 274-281. Bukatko, D. & Daehler, M. W. (1998).
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