early events in children's lives and later morality

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Post on 15-Sep-2016




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    Saul Rosenthal, Ph.D. & Michael Lewis, Ph.D. Institute for the Study of Child Development

    UMDNJ--Robert Wood Johnson Medical School 97 Paterson Street

    New Brunswick, NJ 08540

    While we believe a healthy society is one in which members are concerned about and help each other, there is little research or theory regarding the development of morality. Theorists argue that early experiences strongly impact prosocial development; however, few longitudinal studies exist, and almost none examine the effects of the infants psychosocial environment. Furthermore, most research focuses on laboratory-based behavior, rather than real-world morality. The purpose of this study was to determine whether early experiences relate to later naturally occurring morality, defined in terms of behavior, willingness to help others, and reasoning.

    Eighty-seven children were followed from birth through adolescence. When they were 18, data were collected on their volunteer activities, willingness to help other people, and moral reasoning. During infancy, information expected to relate to later moral development was collected, including quality of attachment relationship with mother, quality of social interactions with mother during free play, and intelligence. When subjects were children and adolescents, further information was collected regarding family environment, social networks, psychological maladjustment, stress, and environmental factors that supported moral behavior.

    Using hierarchical models, volunteering, helping, and moral reasoning were first regressed onto gender, followed by infancy, childhood, and adolescence predictors. Early factors did not consistently predict morality. Girls volunteered more than boys and were more willing to help others. Moreover, subjects volunteered more if they had adult relatives who modelled volunteering or if they were members of organizations that supported volunteering. Results suggest that prosocial development can not be directly predicted from early events. Rather, attention must be paid to the concurrent environment and how it affects behavior.