Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Moral Judgment Developmental Differences between Gifted Youth and College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Moral Judgment Developmental Differences between Gifted Youth and College Students

Article excerpt

In order to better understand contributing factors of moral judgment development, gifted youth and college students were compared. Moral judgment development, ACT scores, attributional complexity, and descriptors of personality were assessed among 140 college students and 97 gifted youth. Important distinctions favoring the gifted sample were seen among aspects of all considered variables. Stepwise hierarchical regression models noted that there was variability in how these variables accounted for the moral judgment developmental variance of each group. Discussed are explanations for the differences seen in the gifted sample relative to the college sample. Efforts to understand populations prone to early advancement, such as the gifted, are recommended in the hopes of transferring gained knowledge to other populations.

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To fully understand the psychology of morality, one must necessarily work by induction. What factors make up and/or contribute to our moral development and functioning? According to the neo-Kohlbergian approach of James Rest and his colleagues (Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma, 1999), moral development and functioning are the result of a conglomeration of cognitive, behavioral, and affective forces that can be represented in four component processes: moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character. Though the neo-Kohlbergian approach addresses the importance of all four components, their research has mostly focused on moral judgment. A major reason for this focus is attributed to the success of their Defining Issues Test (DIT; Rest et al., 1999) in measuring this construct. Considering that Lawrence Kohlberg originally posited that moral judgment advancement is the entirety of moral development (Rest et al., 1999), an emphasis on moral judgment is not unwarranted.

It is here that our query lies. Working again to understand the psychology of morality by induction, we ask, what underlying factors are fundamental contributors to one's moral judgment development? Also, how and under what situations are such factors likely to impact growth? To be sure, these questions are not new to the study of moral judgment development and various factors of note have been revealed. From prior research, two populations have been identified that can provide a wealth of knowledge regarding these two questions: those attending college (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; Rest, Deemer, Barnett, Spickelmier, & Volker, 1986) and gifted youth (Howard-Hamilton, 1994; Narvaez, 1993; Tirri & Pehkonen, 2002). Before addressing these questions, however, it is important to characterize moral judgment development according to the aforementioned neo-Kohlbergian approach (Rest et al., 1999).

As the neo-Kohlbergian contingent maintains, moral judgment development transpires as individuals come to understand and operate from three different moral judgment schemata: the personal interest schema (i.e., akin to Kohlberg's stages 2 and 3 where moral judgments are based on personal and self-serving interests and associations), the maintaining norms schema (i.e., akin to Kohlberg's stage 4 where moral decisions revolve around the conventions, rules, or standards of the social system), and the postconventional schema (i.e., akin to Kohlberg's stages 5 and 6 where a social contract and/or a prior-to-society viewpoint is employed resulting in moral judgments being based on universal principles of justice and fairness; Rest et al., 1999). In distancing themselves from the hard stage notions of moral judgment development that Kohlberg (Colby & Kohlberg, 1987) advocated, Rest et al. (1999) have maintained that any understood moral judgment schema can be referenced in making ethical decisions in conjunction with, instead of, or as a result of any other sociocognitive sources of information relevant to moral decision-making. At the same time, though, neo-Kohlbergian research has supported the existence of a developmental pattern in which a particular moral judgment schema is modal and is emphasized over the other two when moral decisions are required (Rest et al. …

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