The Effects of an Intervention to Advance Moral Reasoning and Efficacy

Article excerpt

The effects of an Initial test of a dual intervention program designed to enhance moral reasoning and personal efficacy among fifth- and sixth-grade children was examined to determine whether the intervention would advance behavior reflective of moral attributes. Training In moral reasoning utilized a cognitive conflict procedure where children were exposed to higher levels of reasoning through participation in small group discussions. For efficacy training, children were guided in their work on a series of before/after stories, and identified appropriate means to achieve pre-designated goals. The results indicated the treatment group advanced in several of the efficacy measures as well as in behavioral conduct. Several recommendations are provided for future training programs of this nature.

This experiment was an initial test of a dual intervention program designed to advance children's moral reasoning and efficacy. The intervention was based upon Kohlberg and Candee's (1984) model of how moral judgments become transformed into moral action. The process begins with the explication of moral principles which coincides with a moral choice. The last two components include implementation issues of moral (i.e., judgments of responsibility) and nonmoral (i.e., ego-strength factors) dimensions.

Moral reasoning (e.g., Colby & Kohlberg, 1987) reflects justifications for moral actions and is relevant to ethical conduct. Blasi's (1980) review of studies on the relationship between moral reasoning and delinquent behavior found that overall, the moral reasoning development of delinquent individuals was significantly below their nondelinquent counterparts. Across several of the studies, the majority of delinquents (80%) scored at the preconventional level, while matched controls were more likely to score at the conventional level. An inverse relation between moral maturity and antisocial and aggressive behaviors has also been documented in other studies (e.g., Bear, 1989; MacKinnon & Njaa, 1995; Trevethan & Walker, 1989). Also, Hubbs-Tait and Garmon (1995) found that the moral reasoning level of adolescents was inversely related to reported sexual risk taking (e.g., having sexual intercourse without using a condom). Adolescents higher In moral reasoning were less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. Increased knowledge of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was associated with less sexual risk taking among high moral reasoners, but AIDS knowledge did not predict risk taking among subjects lower in moral reasoning.

McNamee (1978) in an investigation of helping behavior among college students found that moral reasoning stage predicted both the likelihood and quality of help subjects provided to a confederate In distress. Other studies (e.g.. Elmer & Rushton, 1974; Gibbs, Clark, Joseph, Green, Goodrick, & Makowski, 1986; Rubin & Schneider, 1973; Ma, 1989) report similar patterns in children and adolescents; with those higher in moral reasoning being more altruistic. However, Richards, Bear, Stewart, and Norman (1992) suggest that for school related behaviors, this relation is more curvilinear with fewer classroom conduct problems at Stages 1 and 3 opposed to Singe 2.

The relation of moral reasoning to ethical conduct is not direct. Kohlberg (1969) noted that, "ego strength" factors are a potential impediment to moral conduct. A perceived lack of competence regarding intelligence, physical strength or problem solving ability may inhibit striving towards the achievement of moral Ideals. Empirical support for the importance of competence factors is found in the work of Harris, Mussen, and Rutherford (1976) which portrayed intelligence as a stronger predictor of moral conduct than moral reasoning. Also, Kohlberg and Candee (1984) maintained that judgments of responsibility were required before moral judgments become influential determinants of conduct.

Judgments of responsibility pertain to the self. …