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Children’s ego functioning and their stage of moral reasoning Matsuba, Michio K.


It has been claimed that both peer and family interactions are important in facilitating moral development. As well, there has been evidence suggesting that children's ego functioning is an important consideration in understanding moral functioning. This study investigated the relationship among these variables and how they relate to children’s moral reasoning level. Forty target children (Grade 5 and 10) participated along with a same-sex friend and a parent (total N = 120). Each participant's stage of moral development was assessed in a moral judgment interview. Target children also participated in two discussion sessions (one with a friend and one with a parent). In each discussion, three moral conflicts were discussed (two real-life and one hypothetical). Target children's ego functioning in these discussion sessions was rated by observers using a Q-sort procedure. Results revealed that older children tended to use more complex ego processes than younger children. As well, children generally “coped" more in discussing hypothetical dilemmas and "defended" more with real-life dilemmas. The predicted differences in ego functioning when discussing dilemmas with a peer versus a parent were not evident. However, consistent with expectations, a strong relation was found between ego functioning and level of moral reasoning with moral development being predicted by both cognitive coping and attention-focusing coping ego functions. The results are discussed in terms of the factors that foster moral growth in children.

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