A study of two methods of training upon the development of moral judgment in young children



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The major purpose of the present study was to investigate experimentally Kohlberg's contention that growth of moral judgment is enhanced when children experience cognitive conflict in the form of moral dilemmas for resolution. Results of research have confirmed that this is the case among older children but it was not clear that cognitive conflict model training was an appropriate one for young children. Accordingly, seven year old children were used in the study which focused on the comparison between the cognitive conflict model and two other groups of children whose training either (a) stressed the 'right' behavior (cognitive closure model) or (b) did not intentionally examine morality (control). A secondary objective was to investigate the effects of training upon classroom climate. Peripheral variables of sex, IQ, and chronological age were examined as they related to moral judgment training. Subjects for the study were second grade students enrolled in a private non-denomination day school in a large metropolitan area. Three classrooms and their teachers participated in the study and were designated as two experimental groups and one control group. From each of the classrooms twelve children, six boys and six girls, were randomly selected and comprised the sample of 36. Subjects were administered a pretest consisting of the Otis-Lennon Primary I Test to establish IQ, the Origin Climate Questionnaire to determine classroom climate and the Moral Judgment Interview (Selman and Lieberman, 1973) to establish moral judgment levels. Following the five week training program a posttest consisting of the Origin Climate Questionnaire and the Moral Judgment Interview was administered. Three months later a second identical posttest was administered to detect long term effects. In the cognitive conflict training, children were presented with a moral dilemma by use of a sound filmstrip. It was an open-ended story and children had to make their own decisions about how to handle the dilemma proposed. In small group discussions following the original presentation, the teacher asked probing questions in order to help students clarify and justify their thinking. Classes met twice weekly for 45 minutes over a period of five weeks. In the cognitive closure training, more consistent with traditional school-teaching style, children were presented with a story containing an explicit moral value based on children's literature. The taped stories were didactic in tone and the teacher's function was to elicit discussion from the students of similar episodes in their own lives and to reinforce 'correct' responses. Classes met twice weekly for 45 minutes over a period of five weeks. The control group, following the regular school curriculum, met at scheduled times to correspond with the experimental treatment classrooms. Analysis of data followed the multiple regression treatment. Reduction of the error term and adjustment for possible differences on pretesting were controlled by using analysis of covariance techniques. The results revealed that moral judgment as developed in a cognitive conflict model was not distinguishable from a cognitive closure model among seven year old children as predicted. Findings suggest that the age of seven is perhaps too early for measurable growth to be expected. The data did not support cognitive conflict training critical in altering classroom climate as hypothesized. The results indicated that the lack of change in classroom climate scores may have been a function of the constancy of children's preconceived perceptual view of teacher attitude and behaviors. An examination of the demographic features disclosed sex as a statistically significant variable (p<.01) in the conflict model and suggests conflict training may be more suitable for young female subjects. IQ was a statistically significant variable (p<.05) in the conflict model and provided evidence that it is a more appropriate one for the child with superior intelligence. In the implications for education it was proposed that there be a longer and more inclusive training program for both teachers and students, later placement in the curriculum, and more emphasis on role-playing as a teaching technique. Further research should be directed to (a) establishing validity of training at various grade levels, (b) exploring teacher personality dimensions as they relate to training effectiveness, (c) initiating longitudinal studies to examine long term results of training, (d) investigating the relationship between sex and training, and (e) developing a more easily administered instrument for assessing moral judgment levels.



Judgment in children, Moral development