StudySolver – News and Tips for Studying

Moral Development Theory

Moral Development Theory

Running head: Moral Development Theory

Moral Values and Where They Come From

Desiree L. Alexander

Central State University Abstract

My topic is Developmental Psychology. I will focus on Kohlberg’s moral development.

The main focus of the paper will be the break down of the theory and the truth it has. I

will also talk about how recent psychologists have put his theory to the test. Psychologists

still use his theory when talking about how humans develop over time. Some might

disagree with how much the focus is on justice and not personal feelings. Most

psychologists do agree that it is a process to moral developmental growth.

Morals and Where They Come From


Developmental psychology is the department of psychology that studies the physical, cognitive, and social change of humans throughout their life. ("Developmental Psychology", n.d). Developmental psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg invented a popular theory in moral development that is still taught today. His theory consists of three levels: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional and six stages with the idea that people should reach each stage at a certain age. The stages determine how people view right and wrong and what their overall morals are.


The first stage in Kohlberg’s theory is punishment avoidance which is on level one. This stage is what he believes toddlers and under start at. At this stage, there is no difference between doing the right thing and avoiding punishment. Children will tend to listen to what is told to avoid being in trouble since at that age there are not any morals to disagree with. Also at level one, stage two is rewards. Children will tend to determine what is right or wrong by what gets them rewarded. Those with this moral mindset will be okay with breaking a rule as long as they can get away with the prize.

The third stage, good intentions is at level two. According to Kohlberg, children around 8-12 begin to think at this level. Their morals at this age depend on what gets the approval of those around them. The belief is that if they go in with good intentions people will have good reactions and think of them as good people. Stage four is authority and social order. Older children at this stage follow rules because they know that is how society works. Early teens tend to fit into this stage.

The fifth stage is when teenagers to young adults start to think for themselves. The social contract stage starts when teenagers feel the need to break laws because they are too strict. Their morals now are based on what they individually feel is right and wrong. The last stage is universal ethical principle. Adults have morals that they believe are more important than some laws but know which ones to fight for.

Heinz Experiment

Heinz’s wife had suddenly come down with a deadly disease that could only be cured by one type of medicine. Every pharmacy that sold the medicine charged thousands of dollars. Heinz could not raise enough money or get approved for loans no matter how much he begged. In the end, Heinz was left with two decisions, let his wife die or steal the medicine. No matter how the story is told, the participants are generally asked questions along these lines.

Should Heinz steal the drug? If so, should he go to jail?

Would it matter if the person dying was a stranger?

What would you do if you were Heinz?

Kohlberg tested his theory by using the Heinz dilemma. He used Piaget’s storytelling technique to tell people stories involving moral dilemmas. (McLeod, 2013). He would tell the same story to people of all ages and record their response. He noticed that the participants around the same age would typically respond the same. Kohlberg used the Heinz dilemma experiment to make the foundation of his theory and many psychologists use it to test the theory today.


Kohlberg’s moral development theory is still taught and followed today. Psychologists replicate his studies using the Heinz dilemma and other stories like it. Although, some psychologist believe that morals are more personal. Adults that are asked questions might relate to values in level two when Kohlberg says they should be in three. Overall Kohlberg’s theory is an important part of developmental psychology. References

Kohlberg’s Stages Of Moral Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from’s Stages Of Moral Development

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. (2016, January 20). Retrieved from

Mcleod, S. (2013, February 05). Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from

Pyron, H. (n.d.). Moral Development. Retrieved from

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.