Cognitive prerequisites for inducing change in moral development
Rycek, Robert Francis
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Kohlberg's theory of moral development posits that there are certain prerequisite cognitive skills for achieving certain levels of moral development. Previous research has supported this supposition; however, the data have primarily been correlational. It has been shown that moral stage can be increased by presenting subjects with moral reasoning above their current stage. Change appeared to be maximal when a subject was given moral reasoning one stage higher than his functioning stage. Studies which have investigated experimentally induced change have typically failed to control for cognitive level or have been limited in scope by using only a single moral stage and non-discriminative interventions. The present study investigated the role of cognitive development on moral level using a training paradigm. It was expected that only those subjects who had the necessary cognitive prerequisites for higher moral functioning would show increases in moral reasoning when exposed to a plus-one or same-stage moral intervention-as compared to those without the cognitive prerequisites. Furthermore, differential responding was expected for the plus-one, same-stage, and control groups. The subjects were college students who participated in three consecutive weekly sessions (pre-test, intervention, & post—test). In the pre- and post-test sessions, subjects were administered Rest's DIT and a test of concrete and formal operations. In the intervention condition, subjects heard and rated tape recorded moral dilemmas with reasoning arguments at either the plus-one or same-stage level. The control group received a neutral personality scale. The study employed a 2(Moral Stage) X 2(Cognitive Prerequisites) X 3(intervention Condition) design. Three sets of dependent measures were used in MANOTA's to assess different levels of change in moral and cognitive development. The results indicate a strong relationship between moral and cognitive stages of development. The data, however, did not support the notion that certain cognitive stages are necessary for certain moral stages. It was suggested that there may have been some classification difficulties based on overestimates of moral stage and underestimates of cognitive stage due to the pre-test measures. The hypotheses that posited differential effects of the intervention and necessity of cognitive prerequisites both received only limited support. The results also indicated that moral stage 3 subjects with cognitive prerequisites and moral, stage 4 subjects without cognitive prerequisites showed increases in moral reasoning. It was suggested that these subjects showed movement because they were at the early formal level and therefore more susceptible to change.