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A longitudinal study of moral and ego development in young adults

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A longitudinal study of moral and ego development in young adults
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  Journal of Youth and Adolescence, VoL 13, No. 3, 1984 A Longitudinal Study of Moral and Ego Development in Young Adults Karen Strohm Kitchenerfl 7 Patricia M. Kingfl Mark L. Davison, 4 Clyde A. Parker, 5 and Phillip K. Wood 6 Received November 30 1982; accepted June 7 1984 The purpose of this study was to investigate the longitudinal changes in moral judgment and ego development in a young adult sample when a con- current measure of verbal ability was used as a statistical control. Sixty-one late adolescents and young adults, representing three educational groups, were tested in 1977 and 1979 on the Defining Issues Tests, a measure of moral judgment (Rest), the Sentence Completion Test of Ego Development (Loevinger and Wessler) and Terman s Concept Mastery Test, a measure of verbal ability. No group or time differences were found in ego development. A significant increase was found between the 1977 and 1979 moral judg- ment scores, p < 0.05, and between groups at both testing, p < 0.001. Sex differences were found, p < O. 01, with females scoring higher than males, which were statistically accounted for by verbal ability. These findings sug- gest that moral development continues into the young adult years and that verbal ability may moderate sex differences in moral judgment. The research was supported by grants from the University of Minnesota Computer Center and the National Institute of Education NIE-G-79-0021). ~The first two authors contributed equally to the preparation of this manuscript. 2Associate Professor, University of Denver. Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Current interests include social-cognitive development in young adults. ~Assistant Professor, Bowling Green State University. Ph.D. from the University of Minneso- ta. Current interests include social-cognitive development in young adults. 4Associate Professor, University of Minnesota. Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. Current interests are in the measurement of developmental variables. 5Psychologist, McKay-Dee Hospital, Ogden, Utah. Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Former Chairman, Psychological Foundations of Education, University of Minnesota. Cur- rent interests include social-cognitive development of young adults and counseling psychology. 6Director of Data Processing, Search Institute, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Doctoral student at the University of Minnesota. Current interests include measurement of developmental variables. 7Correspondence ahould be sent to K. S. Kitchener, School of Education, University of Den- ver, Denver, Colorado 80208. 197 0047 2891/84/0600 0197503.50/0 © 1984 Plenum PubLishing orporation   98 Kitchener King Davison Parker and Wood INTRODUCTION Kohlberg (1969) and Loevinger (1976) have each argued that two criti- cal aspects of development, moral reasoning and ego level, develop sequen- tially and hierarchically through a series of stages. Kohlberg's theory and its research have been extensively reviewed and critiqued elsewhere (e.g., Broughton, 1978b; Gibbs, 1977, 1979; Gilligan, 1977; Kurtines and Greif, 1974; Rest, 1979a), as has Loevinger's (e.g., Hauser, 1976; Loevinger, 1979). Both Kohlberg (1976) and Loevinger (1979) claim that longitudinal evidence is particularly critical to the sequentiality of the proposed stages. Longitudi- nal evidence is also essential in investigating how the relationships among developmental variables evolve over time. While each theory has a strong research base, the longitudinal research is minimal, particularly with young adults. In Loevinger's (1979) review of the validity of the Sentence Comple- tion Test (Loevinger and Wessler, 1970), only two longitudinal studies are reported (Loevinger, 1978; Redmore and Loevinger, 1979) and neither ex- tends the longitudinal data base beyond the undergraduate college years. Subjects in the Redmore and Loevinger samples ranged from Grades 6 to 11 at the first testing and were tested at 1 V2- to 6-year intervals. Six of eight samples showed a significant increase in ego level as measured by the Sen- tence Completion Test, however gains leveled off near the end of high school and the beginning of college. The Loevinger (1978) study tested several samples of students enrolled at a technical institute. All samples showed a mean gain of about one-half stage in college, however no gains were made after the end of the sophomore year. These studies suggest that ego level increases with age during adolescence, but not during early adult- hood. They offer preliminary evidence for the sequentiality of Loevinger's initial stages 0-2 to I-4/5) but not the higher ones. Replication and addi- tional longitudinal data are needed that extend these findings into adult years. Longitudinal studies on moral development have been reviewed else- where (e.g., Rest, 1979a; 1983). Using either Kohlberg's interview or Rest's (1979b) Defining Issues Test (DIT), the predominant trend in scores over time is upward. The ratio of upward movement to downward movement [in the Kohlbergian longitudinal studies] is 8.3 to 1, comparable to that found in the DIT over a four-year interval (9.4 to 1) (Rest, 1979a, p. 133). This trend held for adolescents and adults as long as the adult remained in school (Rest, 1983). Rest (1981) reports that educational level has been a strong correlate of moral judgment, with the more educationally advanced groups scoring higher on the DIT. These results support the sequential na- ture of Kohlberg's theory and suggest that moral development continues into the adult years, particularly if adults continue in higher educational programs.  Moral and Ego Development 99 Intellectual ability, however, must be considered a potential con- founding feature of many studies of ego and moral development, particu- larly when the impact of higher education is evaluated. Rest (1979a) discussed the relationship between intellectual and moral development and makes the following observation. What cognitive developmentalists want to argue is that there is a moderate relation of IQ with moral judgment, since moral judgment is one aspect of general intellectu- al development; however, moral judgment is a distinct aspect of intellectual develop- ment and not simply the application of general cognitive and linguistic skills to moral content. (p. 147) Rest cites 52 correlations from 14 studies between the DIT and various tests of intellectual development to support this claim. Of these, 83°70 range be- tween 0.20 to 0.50, demonstrating the predicted moderate correlation. A potential problem in interpreting these data is the common practice of treating intellectual ability as a stable trait by using file data of past per- formance on aptitude tests and inferring current level of ability from such dated information. This practice may underestimate the true relationship be- tween the variables and may mask the role of intellectual ability in the de- velopment of ego level and moral judgment over time. In fact, of the 15 studies reviewed in Rest (1979a) at least 11 appear to have used file aptitude data. Loevinger (1976) has also addressed the relationship between intellec- tual ability and ego development. She claims that cognitive style is one aspect of ego development, but that the two may be intuitively differentiated. Af- ter reviewing a series of studies that investigated this relationship, Loevinger (1979) notes the extreme variability in the relationships found. However, many of the figures she reports correlate the SCT with aptitude scores drawn from school files and may similarly underestimate the relationship between ego development and IQ. (See Redmore and Loevinger, 1979, for examples.) She concludes that while the role of intelligence in ego development is uncertain, it can be said that whatever the SCT measures, it cannot be completely dis- missed as IQ (p. 306). No data have been reported on the longitudinal rela- tionship between ego level and a concurrent measure of intellectual ability. Loevinger (1976) also argues that moral development may best be seen as one aspect of ego development, while Kohlberg (1973) argues that they are separate but related constructs. Others, such as Sullivan et ak (1970) have pointed to the overlap between Loevinger's impulse control/character de- velopment component and Kohlberg's description of moral judgment stages. In addition, both models appear to share a cognitive complexity component. Despite these similarities, Loevinger (1979) has noted that there has been minimal research among constructs within the developmental domain. This observation is accurate for the two constructs of interest here, moral and ego development. Sullivan et al (1970) addressed this issue by testing 120  200 Kitchener King Davison Parker and Wood subjects, ages 12 to 17 years, using the Kohlberg interview and the SCT. They report an overall correlation of 0.66 between the two measures. With age partialled out, the correlation was 0.40. Lambert (1972) reports a multiple correlation of 0.82 between these two measures in a sample of 109 subjects ages 11-60. With the effects of age removed, the partial correlation was 0.60. Three other studies are reviewed by Rest (1979a) using the DIT to compare these constructs. He reports that for groups of junior high and high school students, correlations have ranged between 0.13 to 0.42, depending on the homogeneity of the sample. These studies show a low to moderately strong relationship between ego and moral development, even when the effects of age are removed. None of these studies has looked at the longitudinal relationship between these variables and, with the exception of Lambert s (1972) sample, all have been limited to adolescent or preadolescent subjects. The present study investigates changes that occur in moral and ego de- velopment in a sample of young adults over a 2-year period. Three major questions are addressed. 1. Are there changes in levels of moral and ego development in the young adult years, and if so, are they in the predicted direction? 2. Can a concurrent measure of verbal ability statistically account for longitudinal changes in moral and ego development? 3. Does the relationship between moral and ego development change over time? METHOD Subjects In 1977, 80 subjects were selected for participation in this study. This group included 20 high school juniors (Group 1), 40 college juniors (Group 2), and 20 doctoral level graduate students (Group 3). The first two groups were matched to the graduate group on high school scholastic aptitude test score, sex, and size of hometown when in high school. Matching on scholas- tic aptitude was used to control for the possibility that the graduate students in Group 3 might score higher on the developmental measures because of their higher degree of scholastic ability rather than their greater age and educational experiences. This procedure yielded an above average group of high school students and college students, with 75°70 of each group scoring above the 90th percentile on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. While this proce- dure helps to control for differences in ability across groups, graduate stu- dents may nevertheless be different from college and high school students of similar ability because of such factors as more selective graduate admis- sions policies, greater motivation to learn, predisposition to value intellectu- al challenges, etc.  Moral and go Development 2 1 The average age of the subjects in 1977 was 16.2 years for Group 1, 19.6 years for Group 2 and 28.2 years for Group 3. Based on Hollingshead's (1957) measure of socioeconomic status, subjects came primarily from middle- and upper-middle class homes. These subjects were recontacted in 1979 and asked to continue their participation in the study. Seventeen (85%) of Group 1, 30 (75%) of Group 2, and 14 (70°7o) of Group 3 were retested, for a total of 61 subjects (7607o of the srcinal sample). easures Each subject was tested on three measures in 1977 and 1979, as noted below. The Defining Issues Test DIT). This test is designed to assess develop- ment of moral judgment, based on Kohlberg's (1976) theory of moral de- velopment. A series of moral dilemmas is presented, and subjects are asked to evaluate the importance of each of several reasons one might use in resolving the dilemma. These reasons reflect stage prototypic reasoning. Two indices of moral judgment are used in this study to evaluate de- velopment. The first is the P index, which represents the sum of weighted ranks given to those items reflecting Stage 5A, 5B, and 6 ( principled ) reasoning. The second is the D index, which is similar to the P index in that it focuses on usage of Principled stage items, but differs in that it also takes into account usage of lower stage items (Davison and Robbins, 1978). Sentence Completion Test of Ego Development SCT). This is a projective test consisting of 36 sentence stems which subjects are asked to complete. Responses are coded by trained raters according to the level of ego development they reflect. The total protocol rating was calculated us- ing instructions given in the rating manual (Loevinger et al., 1970). Rating of the SCT for this study was done by the same individual at both testings. He had previously undergone formal training to learn to score the SCT. The Concept Mastery Test CMT). This is an objective test of verbal ability (Terman, 1973), and comprises two parts: the identification of syno- nyms and antonyms and the completion of analogies. It is a power and not a speed test. A high score indicates that a person has a large vocabulary as well as the ability to reason abstractly. Proced u res Subjects were contacted in the Fall of 1977 and again in the Fall of 1979 to participate in the study. In 1977, subjects were administered the CMT at a testing center and were asked to complete the DIT and SCT at home and to return them by mail. In 1979, subjects completed the CMT at a testing center and were asked to complete the other two measures at home.
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