Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

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  • Created by: QCrees21
  • Created on: 31-05-16 10:28

Kohlberg's Research

Kohlberg saw moral development as a gradual process which progresses through a fixed sequence of stages. His theory is therefore a stage theory in which he believes that each child goes through the stages in the same order.

The dilemma of Heinz: A woman near death. Druggist has cure. Cost £2000. Husband only has £1000. Druggist wont sell it too him.Should he steal the drug?

Kohlberg was interested in the reasoning rather than the answers themselves; the thinking behind moral judgements is crucial in determining the child's moral development.


From the answers given, Kohlberg concluded that there are three levels of moral development:

  • Pre-conventional
  • Convential
  • Post convential
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Kohlberg's six stage theory of moral development

Level 1 - Pre-conventional morality (common up to 11 yrs old)

  • Stage 1: What is right/wrong is determined by what is punishable. Avoidment of punishment.
  • Stage 2: What is right/wrong is determined by what brings rewards and what people want.

Level 2 - Conventional morality (12-15 years)

  • Stage 3: Being moral is being 'a good person in your own eyes and those of others' What the majority thinks is right by definition
  • Stage 4: Being good means doing ones duty - showing respect for authority and maintaining social order. Laws are accepted and obeyed

Level 3 - Post conventional morality (16+)

  • Individuals are held as holding different opinions and values. Laws are viewed as social contracts.
  • Moral actions are determined by our inner conscience, and may or may not be in aggreement with public opinion or societies laws.
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Evaluation of Kohlberg's theory of moral developme

Supporting studies

Colby et al (1983) followed up 58 of Kohlbergs orginal sample for 20 years. Ps were tested at 3 yearly intervals. The results showed that Ps passed through the stages as expected although by the age of 36, only 5% of Ps appeared to be in stage 5.

Snarey (1987) carried out a meta-analysis of 45 studies of 27 different cultures and found 'striking support for Kohlbergs first four stages'

Fodor (1972) found, just as Kohlberg would have suggested, that juvenile delinquents operate on a lower stage of moral development

Bias - gender. Kohlbergs  theory has been accused of beta bias as he carried out his research on male teenagers only. When the stages were tested on females they typically scored lower. Other research contradicts that. Gillian suggested that men and women have different moral senses.

Temporal validity - Kohlbergs original research was carried out in the early 1960's and so his stage theory may no longer by valid in relation to contempary attitudes.

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Evaluation of Kohlberg's theory of moral developme

Alternative studies

Constanza et al (1973) found that when tested using short scenarios in which intentions and outcomes for the characters were changed, pre-school children were able to provide moral judgements. 

Shaver and Strong (1976) were not convinced that many people ever progressed beyond stage 4

Practical application

This theory has no obvious practical applications as it is very descriptive. It simply describes each stage without commenting on the relative merits of each stage or how they develop. There is no clear understanding of which stage is the beft stage to be in, or whether it could be applied to improve someones sense of morality.

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