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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interrelations among empathy, moral judgement, and moral orientation in adolescents Yu, Angela


The purpose of the present study was threefold: (1) to differentiate between dispositional and situational moral orientations; (2) to explore the interrelations among dispositional and situational moral orientation, moral judgment, and empathy; and (3) to investigate age and sex differences in adolescence, with respect to the above variables, from a multidimensional perspective. Voluntary participants included 149 boys and 155 girls, of multiple ethnic groups, from Grades 8 to 12, in a B. C. high school. They answered five sets of questionnaires: (1) personal information, (2) moral judgments measured by the 3-story Defining Issues Test (DIT; Rest, 1993) and situational moral orientation with regard to the three DIT stories and a realistic abortion dilemma (the Objective Measure of Situational Moral Orientation), (3) empathic tendencies (the Interpersonal Reactivity Index; Davis, 1994) and social desirability (16 items of the Children's Social Desirability scale; Crandall, Crandall, & Katkovsky, 1965), (4) dispositional moral orientations (the Objective Measure of Dispositional Moral Orientation), and (5) an honesty check, in a 75-minute class period. The hypothesized developmental changes and sex differences in empathy and moral judgment were generally supported, but not in moral orientation. A developmental trend toward a less justice-oriented dispositional and situational moral orientation was speculated, regardless of sex and ethnic groups. Boys and girls did not differ in their dispositional moral orientation, and adolescents were generally care-oriented in their dispositional orientation. Girls scored higher than did boys on justice situational orientation scales, but not on care situational orientation scales. These findings seem to contradict Gilligan's (1994, 1996) theory that adolescent girls would adopt the ethic of care because of a desire for relationships. These findings were also at odds with previous research that sex differences on moral orientation emerged at adolescence and that more adolescent girls than boys tended to use care or both orientations (e.g., Johnson, 1988). Overall, the results suggest that there are individual differences in dispositional moral orientation among adolescents, but that sex is not a good identifier. Present findings supported hypothesized positive correlations between dispositional and situational moral orientation, care orientation and empathic affects, as well as justice orientation and perspective taking and the DIT-U score (a measure of participants' reliance on justice moral reasoning). There were also positive correlations between moral judgment and empathic concern and perspective taking. Nonetheless, present results indicate that students with higher justice scores and lower care scores are more likely to score higher on moral judgment. As a consequence, the hypothesized link between a mixed/balanced orientation and moral judgment was not established. Overall, dispositional moral orientation performed better than empathy in predicting moral judgment development. The combination of dispositional and situational moral orientation seemed to have some predictive power on moral judgment. In sum, these findings support the differentiation between dispositional and situational moral orientation. The relations between perspective taking and empathic concern in morality seem to be bidirectional (Eisenberg, Shea, Carlo, & Knight, 1991) rather than unidirectional (Davis, Hull, Young, & Warren, 1987). Intrapersonal factors (dispositional empathy and dispositional orientation) and situational factors (situational moral orientation) contribute almost equally in the process of moral reasoning.

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