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Moral Reasoning and Behaviour in Adulthood

Authors: O. Matarazzo, L. Abbamonte, G. Nigro


This study aimed at assessing whether and to what extent moral judgment and behaviour were: 1. situation-dependent; 2. selectively dependent on cognitive and affective components; 3. influenced by gender and age; 4. reciprocally congruent. In order to achieve these aims, four different types of moral dilemmas were construed and five types of thinking were presented for each of them – representing five possible ways to evaluate the situation. The judgment criteria included selfishness, altruism, sense of justice, and the conflict between selfishness and the two moral issues. The participants were 250 unpaid volunteers (50% male; 50% female) belonging to two age-groups: young people and adults. The study entailed a 2 (gender) x 2 (age-group) x 5 (type of thinking) x 4 (situation) mixed design: the first two variables were betweensubjects, the others were within-subjects. Results have shown that: 1. moral judgment and behaviour are at least partially affected by the type of situations and by interpersonal variables such as gender and age; 2. moral reasoning depends in a similar manner on cognitive and affective factors; 3. there is not a gender polarity between the ethic of justice and the ethic of cure/ altruism; 4. moral reasoning and behavior are perceived as reciprocally congruent even though their congruence decreases with a more objective assessment. Such results were discussed in the light of contrasting theories on morality.

Keywords: moral behaviour, Contextual-pragmatic approach to morality, ethic ofcare, ethic of justice, Kohlbergian approach, moralreasoning

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