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The effect of reflective abstraction versus peer-focused discussions on the promotion of moral development and prosocial behavior : an intervention study Binfet, John Tyler

Abstract

According to cognitive-developmental theorists, cognitive conflict is the mechanism responsible for both cognitive and moral growth. Cognitive conflict may be generated through two distinct pathways: interindividually, in which individuals interact with each other thus exposing one another to a variety of views and opinions; and intraindividually, or what Piaget termed reflective abstraction, a process in which an individual engages in a form of solitary mental reflection in response to information or stimuli that contrast or conflict with the information the individual currently possesses. The goals of this study were twofold. The first goal was to examine the effects of two distinct moral reasoning interventions on moral reasoning development: an interindividual or social intervention in which students participated in moral dilemma discussions and an intraindividual or individual intervention in which students participated in reflective abstraction concerning the issues prevalent within a series of moral dilemmas. The second goal of this study was to examine the effects of the aforementioned moral reasoning interventions on self-, peer-, and teacher-ratings of prosocial and antisocial behaviors. Ninety-seven sixth and seventh grade students attending public school in a large, metropolitan Western Canadian city participated in the study. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: a moral discussion group, a placebo discussion group, a moral reflection group, and a placebo reflection group. The interventions occurred over a ten-week period involving one 40-minute period per week. Gibbs' Social Moral Reflection Measure - Short Form (Gibbs, Basinger, & Fuller, 1992) was used to assess pre- and post- levels of moral reasoning. Additionally, pre-and posttest measures of self-, peer-, and teacher-ratings of behavior were administered. The results indicated that a) there was no difference in moral reasoning between students in the two experimental groups, b) students in both experimental groups made significant gains in moral reasoning when compared to students in their respective placebo groups, and c) although no difference was found in self-ratings of prosocial and antisocial behavior, several differences were found across groups with respect to peer- and teacher-ratings of prosocial and antisocial behavior. The findings from this study contribute both theoretically and practically to the field of moral education. From a theoretical perspective, the results of this study challenge conventional thinking concerning the different means through which moral reasoning may be facilitated. Certainly, the findings validate the role that reflective abstraction plays in fostering moral development. From a practical perspective, the findings provide strategies for educators interested in promoting both moral development and prosocial behavior in the classroom.

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