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Durham e-Theses
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Children’s reactions to moral transgression

Lee, Maureen (1965) Children’s reactions to moral transgression. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Research into moral development in children was for many years based upon the theories of Piaget and Freud. The former emphasised the cognitive aspects of development, seeing the formation of mature moral judgments largely as a function of the mental age of the child. Freud, on the other hand, concentrated upon the child's early dependence on the parents and consequent identification with them which led to the assimilation of their prohibitions and ideals. Later the proponents of Learning Theory suggested that the basis of moral behaviour was the establishment of conditioned reflexes which were generalised by the child to apply to many situations. The present study reviews recent work in these fields and examines such concepts as internalisation, conscience and guilt which are inherent in contemporary theories. An investigation was undertaken into the different responses to transgression made by groups of boys and girls aged 9, 12, and 14 years. The method used was a story-completion test administered to a total sample of 322 children. The story-endings were then statistically analysed. The most frequently occurring response was the anticipation of discovery and punishment, which was taken to indicate the effectiveness of early conditioning. As the age of the child increased there was a marked decline in the consistency of individual responses. The explanation offered for this phenomenon is that the child develops from unilateral respect to a morality based on cooperation, and in so doing becomes aware of more subtle aspects of each situation so that a greater variety of behaviour can be justified. In the higher age groups significantly more reference to confession, apology and reparative techniques were made by girls than by boys. It is suggested that one of the main reasons for this is the girls' particular social experience which seems to indicate to them the appropriateness of certain actions.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Education
Thesis Date:1965
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:33

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