Academic journal article College Student Journal

Exploring the Impact of Formal Education on the Moral Reasoning Abilities of College Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Exploring the Impact of Formal Education on the Moral Reasoning Abilities of College Students

Article excerpt

The present study was to investigate the patterns of moral reasoning of a sample of college students at Kuwait University, and to examine the effect of education level upon their moral reasoning abilities.

A sample of 90 college male students participated in this study .They ranged in age from 17-25. For the purpose of this study they were divided into four groups according to their level of education: Freshmen (n=30), sophomores (n=25), juniors (n=24), and seniors (n=11). All the participants were Muslims. The Defining Issues Test (DIT), which is based on Kohlberg's cognitive moral development theory, was used as the instrument of assessment of their moral reasoning. The DIT presents situational dilemmas requiring several decisions for each. From these responses, the decision-making process is evaluated, and a P score (principled moral reasoning) is formulated

Results revealed that the participants operate predominantly at the conventional level of Kohlberg's moral judgment theory. Analysis of Variance also revealed that education did not seem to have affected the moral reasoning stages of the respondents. These findings are discussed in light of the previous related moral judgment literature.

Keywords: College students, Moral Development, Moral Reasoning, Defining Issues Test, Kohlberg's moral judgment theory, P-score.

Introduction and theoretical background

Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of cognitive moral development is perhaps the most widely known theory of moral reasoning (Kohlberg, 1969, 1973, 1984), and it remains the most dominant and cited work in contemporary behavioral science (Trevino, 1992). It was developed based on Piaget's (1932) early work on moral development in children. Kohlberg (1969) in his theory of cognitive moral development emphasized the cognitive basis of moral judgment and its relationship to moral action. Kohlberg saw moralization as a process of internalization of cultural or parental norms (Kohlberg 1976). According to Kohlberg, the development of moral reasoning abilities can be divided into three major levels and six stages: (1) preconventional level (including stage one: obedience and punishment orientation; and stage two: instrumental purpose and exchange); (2) conventional level (including stage three: interpersonal accord and conformity, and stage four: social accord and system maintenance); and (3) postconventional level (including stage five: social contract, utility, individual rights, and stage six: universal ethical principles). Individuals respond differently to ethical issues in accordance with their stage of moral reasoning, and those who are at a higher moral stage are more likely to resist the pressure of conforming to the judgments of others. Kohlberg's theory has been used extensively to examine the levels of moral reasoning abilities of students and professionals (Jones, Massey, & Thorne, 2003). For more than 50 years, Kohlberg's theory has stimulated research and influenced thinking about morality and moral development (Cummings, Dyas, Maddux, & Kochman, 2001; Wygant & Williams, 1995).

DIT as a Measurement of Moral Reasoning

The Defining Issues Test (Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma, 1999) has been used extensively to measure moral reasoning. Rest's Defining Issues Test (DIT) is the instrument most widely used to assess moral development and place individuals within a Kohlberg level. The DIT assesses recognition, comprehension, and preference. The DIT presents several moral dilemmas to test-takers, who are asked to respond to questions about each dilemma. A P-Score, the percentage of Stage 5 and 6 principled reasoning people use in responding to the dilemmas, is calculated from the results and represents their current level of moral reasoning development.

Research using DIT indicates that using certain educational methods such as volunteer service combined with reflection in journal writing, discussions, and readings can enhance moral judgment (Bebeau, 1991; Duckett & Ryden, 1994; Narvaez, 2001; Rest, et al. …

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