Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology



First Advisor

Janet M. Kulberg


The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship of levels of moral reasoning and of locus of control to changes in moral reasoning in a situation where external pressure is present. It was hypothesized that changes in moral reasoning would be toward higher levels of reasoning. A second hypothesis was that a person's locus of control related to that person's resistance to change moral reasoning in a situation where pressure to change that reasoning was exerted.

Subjects in the study were 88 students at a large New England community college. At pre-test sessions an original large sample of subjects was administered the Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (Rotter, 1966) and the Defining Issues Test (Rest, 1979). Subjects were classified as Internal or External by splitting the sample at the median of their scores on the Rotter Scale (Mdn. = 10). Subjects were classified as high or low reasoners depending on their original P-scores on the DIT. The P-score represents the magnitude of a respondent's preference for principled moral issues (Stages Sa, Sb and 6) in deciding the course of action to be followed in a moral dilemma. High reasoners had original P-scores in the third and fourth quartiles; low reasoners had original P-scores in the first and second quartiles.

Subjects were paired for the post-test or consensus session. Pairing matched high reasoners with low reasoners in four groups. In two groups high reasoners were Internals. One group matched a high reasoning Internal with a low reasoning External (DiffLOC); the other matched a high reasoning Internal with a low reasoning Internal (SameLOC). Two other groups had Externals for high reasoners. One matched a high reasoning External with a low reasoning Internal (DiffLOC) while the other matched a high reasoning External with a low reasoning External (SameLOC). At this session subjects were given their original DIT answers (pre-test) and paired subjects were instructed to discuss their original answers and come to an agreed upon answer for each item (consensus score). From their independently obtained scores and their consensus scores, change scores were derived for each subject.

Analysis of the results indicated strong support for the first hypothesis. There was a significant difference between the change scores of low reasoners and the change scores of high reasoners. The main effect of Locus of Control was not significant. However, being paired with a person of same or different locus of control differentially affected changes in P-scores. Locus of Control was important only when that reasoner was a high External paired with an Internal. When that combination occurred, Externals changed significantly more.



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