Moral Judgment of Preschool Kuwaiti Children
Nazar, Fatima, Kouzekanani, Kamiar, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal
This study examined the moral judgment of 108 Kuwaiti preschool children. The children were tested on two dimensions of Piaget's moral theory, namely moral realism and justice. Four stories patterned after Piaget's work were used to assess the children's moral judgment. Two stories dealt with moral realism, and two other stories dealt with the issue of justice. Results suggest that the children in this present study are well advanced in their moral judgments in terms of equality and justice, as contrasted with Piaget's original findings. The results of the present study were interpreted in the light of previous research, as well as with regard to the socialization process of children.
Perhaps the most prominent contribution to our understanding of children's moral development has been made by Jean Piaget. Piaget (1932) described moral judgment as formative processes that follow one another. He defined two ideal types: the heteronomous and the autonomous. The heteronomous type shows unilateral respect for authorities and the rules they prescribe. This type of moral reasoning is characterized by moral realism. Moral realism is associated with objective responsibility, which tends to value the letter of the law above the purpose of the law. The autonomous type of equality and respect is established at 10 to 12 years of age. It is characterized by the ability to consider rules critically and to apply selectively these rules based upon a goal of mutual respect and cooperation. Human actions are judged by intentions and motives, as well as by consequences of actions. From Piaget's point of view, the child's concept of justice centers on a social system where there is balance and coordination of the interests of the individuals who are participating in it.
Since Piaget's seminal work, much research has been conducted from the Piagetian perspective of children from Western countries to examine their moral judgments of damage done under accidental and intentional conditions (BergCross, 1971; Flynn, 1984; Gutkins, 1972; Johnson, 1962; Keilen & Garg,1993; Ozbek & Forehand, 1973). To date, however, there is a striking paucity of research on preschool children from Arab cultures. Consequently, this study was conducted to determine the moral reasoning in a sample of preschool children in the State of Kuwait. The study followed the steps of Piagetian procedure of assessing moral judgements in children in conjunction with the stages of their intellectual development. Furthermore, associations between moral judgments and age and gender of the children were investigated.
Subjects were 108 preschoolers from private kindergartens. They were equally divided by sex and age: 27 boys and 27 girls aged 5 years; and 27 boys and 27 girls aged 6 years (mean age =5.30). All of the children were Muslims from the State of Kuwait. They were contacted through their schools. Information about age and sex was taken from the school records.
Four moral-related short stories were chosen for this study. Two of the stories were patterned after Piaget's clinical method to assess children's moral realism and two dealt with justice. The four stories were derived from Piaget's work and were intended to be a representative subset of the stories that he had reported in his work on moral realism (Piaget, 1932, p. 117) and on the development of the idea of justice (Piaget, p.195 ). The four stories and probe questions were translated by the author into Arabic without changing the content. The only exception was that the Christian names were replaced by Muslim names: John and Henry were replaced by Ahmad and Khalid (masculine version) and by Aisha and Fatima (feminine version).
The following were the two stories dealing with moral clumsiness or stealing: 1. John was playing in his room when his mother asked him to come to dinner.
While John was walking by the table, he accidentally slipped and bumped the dishes, causing 15 dishes to fall and break.
2. One day when Henry's mother was not home, he decided to eat some cookies, even though his mother had told him not to. While he was opening the cupboard to take some cookies, one dish fell and broke.
The two probing questions were: 1) Which of these boys did the worse thing?
The following two stories dealt with authority/obedience (justice):
1. One afternoon a mother asked her two daughters to help around the house because she was tired. She asked one girl to dry the plates and the other girl to set the table. One of the girls decided she did not want to help and went outside to play. The mother asked the girl who remained indoors to do both of the chores. The probing questions were: 1) What did she do? 2) Was it fair of the mother to ask her to do both chores? 3) Why or why not?
2. One day a father asked his two sons to wash the car because he was tired and could not wash it himself. He asked one boy to wash the outside of the car and the other boy to clean the inside of the car. One of the boys did not want to clean the car and went to play with his friends. The father asked the other boy to do both the washing and the cleaning of the car. The probing questions were: 1) What did he do? 2) Was it fair of the father to ask him to do both the washing and cleaning? 3) Why or why not?
After a brief contact with each child to establish rapport, the investigator and a trained examiner interviewed the children individually. Prior to assessing the subjects' moral judgments, they were asked to recount the stories in their own words. They did not have any difficulty in grasping the stories. The answers were transcribed verbatim for further analyses.
The scoring of the responses to the moral stories was done on the basis of a scoring system similar to the one presented by Lourenco (1991). Responses were classified according to the outcome or the intention of an act (stories 1 and 2), and according to the justification for the fairness or unfairness of an act (stories 3 and 4). Physical damage was defined by choosing the boy who broke 15 dishes as the one who did the worse thing. Choosing the boy who broke one dish as the one who did the worse thing constituted intrinsic motivation. If the respondents indicated that the action was fair because the father or the mother said so, the response was coded as fair, representing authority/obedience. The response was coded as not fair if it was that the brother or the sister should also have helped, representing equality orientation.
CHILDREN'S EVALUATIONS OF MORAL ITEMS RELATED TO MORAL REALISM
The results of this study revealed that the subjects' moral judgments were made predominantly in terms of intrinsic motives (68.50%). However, their orientation towards moral judgments in terms of magnitude of physical damage (31.50%) should not be ignored. These findings are consistent with Flynn's (1984) study which showed that preschool children are capable of making moral judgments in both apology-restitution and guilt-innocence. Likewise, in this study preschool children made judgments in terms of both intrinsic motivation and amount of physical damage.
Results of the bivariate association between age and moral judgments were quite consistent with Piaget's theory, which suggests that immature moral judgments reflect centering on consequences while disregarding intent. In contrast, mature responses reflect a recognition that both intent and consequence are important in solving moral dilemmas (Foye & Simeonsson, 1979). In this study, older children (6-year-olds) made more significant judgments in terms of intrinsic motivation than did younger children (5-year-olds). On the other hand, younger children made more significant judgments in terms of magnitude of physical damage. This finding corroborates research that suggests that chronological age substantially influences moral development in children (Johnson, 1962; Ozbek & Forehand, 1973).
The findings that boys develop moral judgments earlier than do girls was not consistent with Piaget's (1932) suggestion that boys develop moral judgments earlier than do girls because of differential demands of peer cooperation. Gender differences in moral development has always been an issue of hot debate in the research literature. A lot of inconsistencies have occurred as to the effect of gender on moral development (Huston, 1983; Lytton & Romnay 1991).
Consequently, a clear verdict cannot be rendered either in favor of - or against the gender difference issue, since consistency has not yet been established.
The findings of this study seem to support the assumption that children around the age of 5 years judge an actor who had no bad motives not to be bad, although he had unintentionally caused damage, that is, they base their judgments on the criterion of a match between an actor's motive and the outcome of his action (Nunner-Winkler & Sodian, 1988). Piaget contends that moral judgment begins to be made at the age of six or seven after a year of socialization in school.
Children in this study, however, attended kindergarten schools, which may have enhanced the socialization process and, hence, the early emergence of their moral judgment. A common feature in these schools concerns the social atmosphere which seems conducive to children's moral growth. Curriculum activities provide opportunities for children to judge moral events they encounter in their interactions with their peers. Children are exposed to many activities which involve them in discussing stories, and to puppet skits presented to them from time to time as part of the curriculum. It is quite interesting to mention that children in these schools are, at an early age, encouraged to explore the concept of intention and motive using stories and puppet skits to discuss the characters' motivation. Dramatic play and role play are also encouraged. Such activities surely enable the children to see another person's viewpoint and promote development of perspective taking. Hence, it may not be surprising that children display some surprisingly sophisticated moral judgments at this age.
CHILDREN'S EVALUATIONS OF MORAL ITEMS IN TERMS OF JUSTICE
Regarding the children's judgments on the issue of justice, the results of the present study indicate that the overwhelming majority of the children (96 out of 108) clearly indicated the idea that it was not fair of the mother/father to treat the children unequally. Both children should do their part of the chores. They all responded in terms of equality. These data indicate that the children begin to give up their moral realism and to make judgments consistent with the notion of justice or equality well before the age of 7 years. Piaget reported, by means of stories similar to the ones used in this study, that about 75% of the children of 5 to 7 years of age defend obedience; about 80% of the children between 8 and 12 years of age defend equality (Piaget, 1932, p. 268). The present finding was not consistent with Piaget's original findings. This may be due to the early socialization process of the preschool children in our sample. Only 12 children responded in terms of obedience. They identified what was just with what was in conformity with obedience. All of the girls reported that the mother was fair, because she said so (authority/obedience). This result may be interpreted in terms of the socialization process in Muslim families which stresses that girls should be more obedient than should boys. This finding also illustrates that the issue of gender differences in moral judgment might be the result of many factors. The issue is differentially influenced by social-cultural environment, and hence the inconsistent findings reported in the literature concerning gender differences in moral judgment (Smetana, 1981, 1985; Smetana & Braeges, 1990).
To conclude this discussion, it might be interesting to attempt to link the main finding of this study to the current research and debate in this area. A major finding of this study is that Piaget's timeline does not hold for the moral development of Muslim Kuwaiti children. Instead, children in this study had greater moral reasoning ability at a younger age than did children in Piaget's study. This conclusion is consistent with findings of the proponents of domain theory.
Domain theorists contend that young children's thinking in the moral domain is actually quite sophisticated (Smetana, 1995; Tisak, 1995), and some even claimed that early moral thoughts should be characterized as "moral, not premoral" (Killen, 1991, p. 115). Domain researchers have shown that "young children do make moral judgments that go beyond heteronomous obedience to authority and rules" (Turiel, 1983, p. 148). They have equally shown that by the age of five years, children have the competence to think of moral issues as "obligatory, generalizable, and impersonal" (Turiel, Killen, & Helwig 1987, p. 169). In this vein, there may be no surprise that, in this study, 5- and 6-year-old children had greater moral reasoning ability at this early age than Piaget's timeline suggests. Thus, the major finding in this study seems to support the claim of domain theorists and to disconfirm Piaget's account of early morality.
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Kuwait University, State of Kuwait KAMIAR KOUZEKANANI
The University of Texas at Austin, TX, USA
Fatima Nazar, PhD, Department of Foundations of Education, Kuwait University, State of Kuwait. Kamiar Kouzekanani, PhD, Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts, The University of Texas at Austin, Texas, USA.
Appreciation is due to anonymous reviewers.
Please address correspondence and reprint requests to Fatima Nazar, PhD, College of Education, Kuwait University, PO. Box 13281, Keifa, 71953, State of Kuwait. Phone: (965) 484-0260; Fax: (965) 494-0749; Email:
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Publication information: Article title: Moral Judgment of Preschool Kuwaiti Children. Contributors: Nazar, Fatima - Author, Kouzekanani, Kamiar - Author. Journal title: Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal. Volume: 30. Issue: 6 Publication date: January 1, 2002. Page number: 539+. © 2009 Scientific Journal Publishers, Ltd. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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