Explain and Evaluate Two Approaches to Explaining Moral Development

Topics: Jean Piaget, Observational learning, Kohlberg's stages of moral development Pages: 6 (1744 words) Published: February 19, 2013
Hannah Ali: Psychology Assignment

Explain and evaluate any two approaches to explaining moral development.

Moral development is what we consider to be right, wrong, good or bad. It is developed from infancy through to adulthood and is the principles we use to determine what is right or wrong, fair or unfair. Each individual has their own understanding of what morality is, however generally this is determined largely by the culture or society we live in and the rules that we conform to within this society.

In psychology there are many theories around the beliefs of moral development, and how morality is developed from childhood to adulthood. The reason for the different theories is due to the methods, ways of study adopted by the psychologists to study human behaviour. These theories allow us to compare and gives us the opportunity to take into consideration all views and ideas and not to settle for just one argument or approach around this subject.


The aim of this assignment is look at the two different approaches to moral development, firstly the cognitive explanation to moral development by Jean Piaget. Then moving on to the social learning theory, and Bandura’s contribution to how morality develops. Criticisms of these theories will be discussed and evaluations based on the two studies will be made.

Piaget was the first psychologist to study cognitive development in children. His work dates back to 1932 and his findings stated that morality develops through childhood and adolescence. He believed that children pass through different levels of morality according to their cognitive development. Piaget conducted a number of experiments and from these tests concluded that children up to the age of three or four could not make moral judgements as they were not able to understand rules at this age. He stated, if the children were unable to understand the rules and that they were breaking then they were unable to make moral judgements. He believed that once children could understand the rules, and that they were breaking them then this was the age that moral development began. From his research, this started at the age of about eight years old.

Woods B, (2004 pg.72)
Piaget believed that moral development in children of this age takes place in two stages. Stage one- heterononmous morality described as morality imposed from outside. This is when children see the rules as been made by parents, teachers or God and that they are unchangeable. Morality at this stage is based on moral punishment, you do something wrong and you will be punished. This stage is described by Piaget as the pre-operational stage of development where the child is only able to make his judgement based on the consequence of the action.

The second stage- Autonomous morality described as morality which is based on the child’s own rules is apparent when the child is able to decentre and distinguish the intent behind the action along with the consequence of the action. It is the stage at which children are able to understand that rules are flexible to change and according to the situation. Woods B, (2004 pg.72)

From Piagets experiments he was able to conclude that morality is based on the amount of cognitive development, how intelligent one is. The strengths of Piaget’s theory are that whilst conducting his experiments he did focus on children alone as learners. He contributed hugely to our understanding of education and believed that this was the key to saving our society.

Piaget’s moral theory was described by his experiment with children that involved rules whilst playing a game of marbles. Children under the age of five showed they had no rules, children aged between ages 5-10 saw the rules as fixed and children 10 and above realised the rules and also adopted them by mutual consent.

Moral dilemmas were...
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