In the process of development, children somehow learn to distinguish good and evil, right from wrong, generosity and selfishness, cruelty and cordiality. There are several theories about how children learn moral standards. And we must say that there is no solidarity in this issue. Social learning theorists believe that children learn morality through regulatory impact from adults, rewarding or punishing children for the various types of their behavior – appropriate or non-conforming morality. In addition, an important role is played by children imitating adult behaviors. Other psychologists believe that morality develops as a defense against anxiety associated with the fear of losing the love and approval of parents. There are other theories.
One of the most famous theories of moral development is the theory by Lawrence Kohlberg, which he developed in the 80s.
Kohlberg suggested to his subjects, which included children, adolescents, and adults, short stories of the moral character. After reading the stories, the subjects had to answer some questions. In each story, the main character was supposed to solve a moral problem – a dilemma. The subject was asked how he would act in this situation to solve this dilemma. Kohlberg was not interested in the solutions themselves as such, but in the decision support.
Example of the dilemma:
One woman died of a rare variety of cancer. Only one drug could save her. This medicine was radium preparation, invented by local pharmacist. Preparing the medicine is very expensive for the pharmacist, but he asked for it a price 10-fold greater than the cost of ingredients. To buy the medicine, you had to pay $ 2,000. The woman’s husband, whose name was Heinz, asking all his friends and acquaintances, was able to collect $ 1,000, that is half of the required amount. He asked the pharmacist to reduce the price or sell the medicine on credit, because his wife was dying and she needs medication urgently. But the druggist said: “No. I opened this medicine and want to make money on it.” The woman’s husband was in despair. At night, he broke in the pharmacy and stole medicine for his wife.
Subjects were asked, “Should Heinz steal the medicine? Why so?” “Was the pharmacist right, assigning a price many times higher than the cost of medicine ingredients? Why so?”, “What’s worse – let the person die or steal to save him? Why so?”
Of course, people respond differently to questions.
After analyzing their responses, Kohlberg concluded that the development of moral reasoning is divided in certain stages. In the beginning, moral development is based on external criteria, and then on personal criteria. He identified three main levels of moral development (preconventional, conventional, and postconventional) and 6 steps – two steps at each level.
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