Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Robert B. Germain


Various stage models have been proposed as a means of organizing and understanding the construct of moral reasoning. Kohlberg’s (1976) simple stage model is the most rigid application of structuralism as he suggests that moral reasoning is based almost exclusively on the structural capacities of the reasoner. Significant criticism has been levied against this model as it has not fared well under scientific scrutiny. Rest (1979) has extended Kohlberg’s paradigm in his design of a complex stage model. Rest (1979) suggests that situational factors play a major role in reasoning about moral problems. This results in complex stage patterns as individuals use a variety of different stage responses to address moral situations. Rest's measure of moral maturity, though, does not systematically evaluate situational influence. In addition it does not fully address complex stage patterns because only the highest moral stage usage (stages 5 and 6) is evaluated in determining an individual's level of moral maturity. Carroll (1981) has refined the assessment of moral reasoning in complex stage terms by addressing lower stage usage. His Rejection Scale effectively distinguishes reasoners in terms of moral maturity by measuring the degree to which reasoners reject the lower stage answers (presented in multiple choice format) when asked to judge whether the answer is a good reason for making a moral decision.

The purpose of the present research was to further refine the complex stage model by systematically examining situational influence in terms of Carroll's notion of rejection. This resulted in an evaluation of the relative influence of story consequences, story themes and age effects on moral reasoning.

Moral reasoning was measured by adapting Carroll's assessment device to include the systematic presentation of mild, moderate and severe consequence conditions. The psychometric properties of this new Rejection Scale were established in a pilot study. The pilot data indicates that this new measure is reliable across test administrations: it correlates well with other measures of moral reasoning, and the junior high and high school populations interact appropriately with the test materials (e.g., comprehension of test items, understanding and following directions).

A total sample of 90 male and female students from 7th, 9th, and 11th grade were randomly selected to participate in the main study. An explanation of the study was provided and consent was secured from students, parents, and teachers. All students completed the Rejection Scale (see appendix B). The data were analyzed, using a three by three by six ANOV with repeated measures, by grade, consequence condition, and story theme. In addition, Scalogram Analysis was used to determine the scalability of the data by consequence condition, story theme, and age.

The Scalogram Analysis demonstrated a very clear consequence effect as dilemmas were scalable by consequence condition with coefficients of reproducibility ranging from .85 to 1.0. This effect occurred for each age category.

The Analysis of Variance provided additional support for this consequence effect. Each age category showed a strong consequence effect and the mild, moderate and severe consequence conditions all differed significantly from each other in each dilemma

An age effect was also demonstrated with Scalogram Analysis. The 7th graders had the lowest average stage rating, followed by the 9th graders, and the 11th graders achieved the highest average stage ratings.

This age effect was supported by the Analysis of Variance. There was a significant difference between all three ages at mild and moderate consequences, while 7th and 11th graders differed significantly at the severe consequence condition.

Finally, the dilemma effect was demonstrated with Scalogram Analysis and Analysis of Variance. The dilemmas differed in their average stage rating, and these differences held up across all three age groups and consequence conditions. In addition, the dilemmas differed in their degree of scalability. The Analysis of Variance showed significant differences between most of the dilemmas at mild and moderate consequences.

The results from this study demonstrate that story consequences and story themes are significant functional aspects of moral situations. In addition, the structural aspect of Kohlberg's stage model was also demonstrated as a developmental progression was documented between 7th, 9th, and 11th graders. These results are discussed in terms of a model of moral reasoning which incorporates both functional and structural aspects.



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