UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Moral climate and the development of moral reasoning: the effects of dyadic discussions between young offenders Taylor, John Harrison


Cognitive-developmental theory claims that moral reasoning ordinarily progresses through distinct stages, and that such development can be stimulated by discussion with others, especially discussions involving exposure to higher-stage reasoning. The concern of this study was the social/contextual factors that interact with cognitive processes involved in the development of moral reasoning. Two types of such factors were studied: namely, sociometric status and intensity of moral education program. The first of these could be studied because the participants were residents of a facility for young offenders (a total institution), characterized by an obvious and rigid hierarchical peer status system within the culture. The second factor could be studied because the participants were drawn from three residential units within the larger center, which varied significantly in terms of their program activities (specifically, unit meetings), and hence their moral climates. A total of 101 young offenders served as participants. They were assessed for moral reasoning, their perceptions of moral and institutional climate, and also through behavioral ratings - all at the pretest and at the 1-month posttest. The three levels of program were reflected in the institutional and moral climate measures. As well, better climates were associated with improvements in behavior and lesser climates with reductions in prosocial behavior. It was concluded that moral climate represents a valid measure of the factors which predict behavior within and following release from institutional settings. In order to study the effects of peer status, 40 participants served as target subjects who engaged in moral dilemma discussions with one other subject, each day for 3 consecutive days. According to cognitive-developmental theory, a dyadic intervention such as the one used here would be expected to stimulate the moral reasoning competence of the participant who is lower in that ability. However, the dyads were formed in such a way that some of the high stage participants (who would be expected to have an influence on their partner) were of significantly lower peer status. It was found that both exposure to higher-stage reasoning and higher peer status were necessary but not sufficient elements within this developmental process, consistent with the Piagetian notions regarding peer interaction and disequilibration.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.