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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Prosocial moral reasoning, empathy, perspective-taking, and social behavior: a comparative study of delinquent and nondelinquent youth Elaschuk, Cory L.


This research study was guided by four purposes. First, to compare the prosocial moral reasoning of juvenile delinquents with that of their non-delinquent peers. Second, to compare both empathy and perspective-taking between these two groups. Next, to explore and elucidate the relationships among pro-social moral reasoning, empathy, and perspective-taking; and to examine the relationship of these constructs to dimensions of social behavior and aggression in delinquent and non-delinquent youth. And finally, to explore pro-social moral reasoning, empathy, and perspective-taking within the delinquent sample. Forty juvenile delinquent males and 40 of their non-delinquent peers were matched in terms of age and ethnicity. All participants were individually administered measures designed to assess pro-social moral reasoning, empathy, perspective-taking, and positive and negative social behaviors (via teacher and self-reports) in one 50-minute session. Delinquent participants were classified into one of three subgroups on the basis of their scores on a self-report measure of aggression against persons and property; (a) low aggression-against-persons and low aggression-against-property, (b) high aggression-against-persons and low aggression-against-property, and (c) high aggression-against-persons and high aggression-against-property. The results generally revealed that delinquent participants were lower in pro-social moral reasoning, empathy, and perspective-taking than their non-delinquent peers. Further, significant relationships were found among the variables of pro-social moral reasoning, empathy, perspective-taking, positive and negative indices of social behavior, and type of aggression. Finally, delinquent adolescents classified into the subgroup scoring high on both aggression-against-persons and aggression-against-property were found to score significantly lower on both empathy and perspective-taking than delinquents classified as scoring low on both types of aggression. No significant differences were found among any of the three delinquent subgroups on pro-social moral reasoning. Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed in terms of the strengths and limitations of the present study and suggestions for future research.

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