Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Children's Reasoning about Aggression: Differences between Japan and United States and Implications for School Discipline

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Children's Reasoning about Aggression: Differences between Japan and United States and Implications for School Discipline

Article excerpt

Abstract. Results are presented of a cross-cultural study of differences in the reasons that children in the United States and Japan give for refraining from common types of aggression. Over 200 children, primarily fifth-graders, were interviewed individually. The study was an extension of previous research showing that children who voice a self-centered or hedonistic perspective based on punishment, as opposed to a perspective that focuses more on the needs of others, tend to be more disruptive and/or aggressive. In the current study, children in the United States, compared to children in Japan, were more likely to focus on the consequences of their behavior on themselves, not on others. Indeed, nearly all children in the United States (92%) gave at least one response that focused on punishment, and 79% gave a response that focused on either overt or relational retribution. In contrast, 90% of the children in Japan did not mention punishment and less than half (42%) mentioned one of the two types of retribution. Given previously reported differences in behavior between Japanese and American students, the present findings suggest that emphasizing rules and punishment--as widely practiced in American schools but not in Japanese schools--might not be the best strategy for promoting responsible behavior, especially over the long term.

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A growing body of research indicates that children's behavior is related to their moral reasoning (i.e., the reasons, or justifications, they give about why it is right or wrong to engage in certain behaviors). In particular, disruptive and aggressive behavior in the classroom has consistently been associated with moral reasoning grounded in a self-centered or hedonistic perspective based on being caught and punished (Bear & Richards, 1981; Bear & Rys, 1994; Hughes & Dunn, 2000; Kuther & Higgins-D'Alessandro, 2000; Manning & Bear, 2002). For example, when asked why they should not hit, steal, start fights, tease, and say mean things to others, disruptive and aggressive students frequently reported that they "might get caught" or that their peers "might do it back" (Manning & Bear, 2002). In contrast to self-centered moral reasoning that focuses on punishment or retaliation, moral reasoning that focuses on concerns about feelings, interpersonal issues, and social norms (i.e., nonhedonistic reasoning) tends to be associated with less disruptive and aggressive behavior (Manning & Bear, 2002), less hyperactivity (Dunn et al., 2000), more prosocial behavior (Dunn et al., 2000; Eisenberg-Berg, 1979; Miller et al., 1996), more cooperative and less conflictual play (Dunn et al., 2000), and more compromise during conflicts (Dunn & Herrera, 1997). Ironically, these findings indicate that discipline violations are highest among students who think that the best reason to refrain from such violations is because they will be punished. As such, the findings are contrary to widespread beliefs among American educators about the effectiveness of emphasizing clear rules and punishment in the prevention and correction of misbehavior. Such an emphasis is reflected in the growing popularity of zero tolerance policies and corresponding high rates of suspension (Justice Policy Institute/Children's Law Center, 2000; Skiba & Knesting, 2001; Skiba & Peterson, 1999).

The purpose of the present study was to examine whether the punishment-oriented moral reasoning commonly found among children in the United States is also found among children in Japan--a country in which parents and educators place much less emphasis on the use of punishment. Based on cultural differences in disciplinary practices between the two countries (reviewed later in this article), we predicted that children in the United States would be more likely to orient their moral reasoning toward being caught and punished, whereas children in Japan would be more likely to focus on the needs of others. …

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