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Moral development and moral action : a study of youthful offenders Moran, Thomas


This study was designed to explore possible relations between moral maturity and moral action by evaluating groups of delinquent and non-delinquent youth, and examining their relative position on multiple measures of moral maturity and criminality. Subjects were 60 male adjudicated juvenile offenders between the ages of 14 and 17, and 20 non-delinquent controls. All youth participated in a series of structured interviews used as a way of assessing their abilities on Kohlberg's moral reasoning, Turiel's social convention understanding, and Selman's social perspective taking measures, and were administered Hogan's socialization, empathy, and autonomy scales. The delinquent youth were assigned immorality ratings and further classified according to legal categories. Ratings for Hare's Psychopathy Checklist were obtained from primary therapists for the delinquents and from school counsellors for the non-delinquent comparison group. The results revealed that as a group, delinquent subjects showed substantial developmental delays in their performances on measures of moral reasoning, social convention understanding, interpersonal awareness and indices of socialization and autonomy. Hogan's empathy measure also showed a trend in the same direction. The majority of the delinquent youth were found to score at a preconventional-concrete reasoning level and showed a general lack of social-moral character. Tests of communality among the six moral maturity measures produced distinct and internally consistent cognitive reasoning (i.e., moral reasoning, interpersonal awareness, and social convention understanding) and moral character (i.e., socialization, empathy, and autonomy) clusters which lend support to the claims of Brown, Harre, and Hogan regarding the multidimensionality of moral development. There was an expected inverse relationship between immorality and moral maturity for the low and moderate seriousness groups, and an inconsistent pattern for the high group. This later finding was interpreted as an artifact of the fact that those delinquents whose criminal acts were judged most immoral were particularly guilty of various sexual offenses. The psychometric properties of the Psychopathy Checklist confirm its usefulness with adolescent populations. Three internally consistent factor scales emerged (i.e., motivational deficit, lack of ego strength, and behavioral deviation). While psychopathy was found to significantly correlate with immorality ratings, an unexpected positive relationship was also found between psychopathy and moral reasoning for the sex offender group. Taken together, all of these results were interpreted in terms of Heider's theory of the psychology of action, which views behavior, in this case moral behavior, as a combination of "can" (i.e., moral reasoning competency) and "try" (i.e., moral character).

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