Kohlberg’s moral stages - Growth & Change

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Kohlberg’s moral stages
Growth & Change

Lawrence Kohlberg studied moral development by presenting children with moral dilemmas involving a conflict between two or more moral principles. He classified his participants according to their level of moral development on the basis of the reasoning behind the answers they gave. Kohlberg identified three levels of moral development, each consisting of two stages. At stage 1, the child’s sense of what is right and wrong is determined by what is punishable and what is not, and at stage 2 by what others want and what brings reward. At stage 3, good behaviour is characterized by whatever pleases and helps others, and at stage 4 by showing respect for authority. At stage 5, children understand that, although rules should normally be followed, they are sometimes superseded by the rights of the individual. At stage 6, the highest level, actions are determined by self-chosen ethical principles — such as justice, equality and respect for human dignity — which are established through reflection. These principles are abstract and universal, and full moral responsibility can only be attained by acting in accordance with them. Kohlberg believed that only about 10 per cent of adults reach this level of moral reasoning, and later concluded that stage 6 may not be a separate stage after all.


A child’s sense of morality develops in a stereotypical way and is based on the fundamental principle of justice.


Kohlberg found that the answers given by children of different nationalities and ages are reasonably consistent with regard to his stages of moral development. Some psychologists have argued that most children are unfamiliar with the moral dilemmas used, and might provide more mature answers to problems that are more relevant to them. Others point out that the emphasis on justice makes Kohlberg’s theory inherently sexist, because qualities that traditionally define female ’goodness’, such as caring for others, are lower on his scale.







Moheb Costandi


’Dad, it’s not fair that you’re telling me off for bad behaviour now — I’ve only reached Kohlberg’s fifth stage of morality’.