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«A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY OF THE RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN EPISTEMOLOGICAL BELIEFS AND MORAL JUDGMENT AS A PSYCHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION FOR MORAL EDUCATION by ...»

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Contemporary research (Bendixen et al., 1998; King & Kitchener, 1994, 2002;

Kohlberg, 1971a; Perry, 1970) has examined the relationship between reasoning in the intellectual and moral domains, that is, between individuals’ epistemological assumptions and their judgments about what is right, fair, and good. These studies on the relationships between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning, however, might have an inherent methodological problem. Existing studies primarily have utilized interviews and a questionnaire method with U.S. college students, so less is known about other populations. For this reason, in this dissertation I investigated how the relationships between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning are similar and different between Korean and U.S. college students.

The major developmental perspectives underlying the present study derived from the theoretical writings of Lawrence Kohlberg (1969, 1971a, 1971b, 1973, 1975, 1976a, 1976b, 1981, 1984, 1987) and the modifications of this theory by James Rest (1973,

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(Rest et al., 1999) contended that an individual actively constructs moral meaning; an individual does not simply passively absorb the ideology of his or her culture. Kohlberg proposed that the basic categories of morality (such as “justice,” “duty,” “rights,” and “social order”) are self-constructed by the individual. Rest suggested that in moral cognition, individuals are capable of actively constructing moral epistemology. However, they did not postulate that epistemological beliefs such as constructivist epistemology and objectivist epistemology are related to moral judgment development in important ways. This study extends the work in this area with the recognition that important but rarely discussed variables contributing to moral reasoning may be students’ epistemological assumptions about the nature of knowledge and knowing.

To examine the role of epistemological beliefs, the present study utilized a measure of student moral reasoning ability as the criterion variable. Predictor variables were five epistemological dimensions, age, education, gender, syllogistic reasoning skill, GPA, and academic major. Two sets of analyses were conducted. In the first, descriptive statistics and correlations among all variables were used to assess the relationships among moral reasoning and each of the 11 independent variables for Korean and U.S. college students. The second set of analyses consisted of all possible regressions that examined whether epistemological beliefs explain a substantial proportion of variation above and beyond other variables and how strongly five epistemological beliefs predict higher levels of principled moral reasoning.

The present study revealed similar results in the relationships between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning between Korean and U.S. college students.

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were the most significant predictors of Korean and U.S. college students’ P scores. Also, the analysis revealed that variables from the five epistemological predictors explained a substantial proportion of the variance in P scores over and above the effects of gender, age, education, GPA, academic major, and syllogistic reasoning. With the U.S. sample, the combination of omniscient authority, simple knowledge, and quick learning accounted for about 17.7% of the variance in P scores. With the Korean sample, the combination of omniscient authority and certain knowledge accounted for about 17% of the variance in P scores.

Second, with both Korean and U.S. college students, Gilligan’s (1982) charge of gender-bias in Kohlberg’s model was not warranted by the present evidence. Male and female students were not significantly different in terms of their P scores. Also, education, major, and syllogistic reasoning had no significant correlations with P scores.

With the Korean college students, age was significantly correlated with P score, but this correlation (r =.14) was very low.

The present study also revealed differences between the two groups. The results revealed that Korean college students who viewed the nature of knowledge as certain scored lower on the DIT, whereas U.S students’ beliefs about certain knowledge had no significant correlations with P scores and accounted for little variance in P scores. On the other hand, U.S. college students who endorsed simple knowledge scored lower on principled moral reasoning scores, whereas Korean students’ beliefs about simple knowledge had no significant correlations with P score and accounted for little variance in P scores.

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Differences in Epistemological Beliefs and Moral Reasoning Between Korean and U.S.

College Students The Korean college students in the present study had stronger beliefs about omniscient authority, simple knowledge, and innate ability to learn than U.S. college students. The results are consistent with the literature on epistemological beliefs from a cross-cultural comparative perspective (Lee, 1995; Qian & Pan, 2002; Tasaki, 2001). One explanation for their stronger beliefs about omniscient authority and simple knowledge is that they were heavily influenced by school cultures that encourage student docility and respect for authority, foster building consensus over controversial issues, but discourage assertiveness and raising “why” questions regardless of students’ academic performance (Kim, 1998; Pai, 1997; Qian & Pan, 2002). Unlike American students, Korean students grew up in school cultures that emphasized collectivism, acceptance of consensus, and strong respect for authority.





Korean college students were found to have stronger beliefs about innate ability to learn. Students’ beliefs may be related to the highly exam-oriented atmosphere in Korean school cultures. Some educators say that Korean students live in “exam hell.” The highly competitive atmospheres in classrooms and schools concentrate students’ attention only on academic learning. This condition may help students develop the belief that they cannot succeed unless they are born smart.

The analyses indicated that U.S. college students obtained significantly higher P scores in comparison to the Korean students, t(432) = 4.4, p.001. This finding parallels the results of other studies of moral reasoning from a cross-cultural comparative

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that the mean difference in the P scores between the Asian and Euro-American subjects was statistically significant; the latter obtained significantly higher P scores than the Asian students.

The significantly negative correlations between omniscient authority and moral reasoning among both Korean and U.S. college students indicate that individuals who are less likely to accept the moral position of authority must necessarily be more active in constructing their own standards. In support of this view, Bendixen et al. (1998) and Curtis et al. (1988) found that principled moral reasoning scores among adults using the DIT were inversely related to favorable attitudes toward authority (see also Laupa, 1991;

Presley, 1985; Rest, 1975; Turiel, 1994). Also, a significant association was noted between GPA and the P score among both Korean and U.S. college students. This result supports the view that educational achievement has a significant correlation with the P score (Ji, 1997; Kohlberg, 1969; Rest, 1986).

The correlational analyses, however, revealed that certain knowledge was a significant factor only in the case of Korean college students, whereas simple knowledge was a significant factor only in U.S. college students. Since a comparison of findings from correlational and all possible regressions analyses indicated a high degree of similarity, the interpretation will be discussed in the following section.

Relationship Among Epistemological Beliefs and Moral Reasoning Between Korean and U.S. College Students The results of the present study indicate that multiple epistemological assumptions play important roles in young adults’ moral reasoning over and above other

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and moral reasoning in both Korean and U.S. college students adds support for the relationship reported by Bendixen et al. (1998). Their study indicated that epistemological beliefs explained a substantial proportion of the variation in P scores over and above the effects of gender, age, education, and syllogistic reasoning. In the current research the moderate association between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning appears to support the Bendixen et al. findings about the relationship between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning, and this study adds new evidence from a cross-national perspective.

The results of the present study indicate that belief in omniscient authority was the strongest single predictor in both Korean and U.S. college students’ P scores. These findings indicate that individuals across cultures who are less supportive of authority and established practices tend to be more active in constructing their own standards. The relative importance of omniscient authority largely parallels that of a number of other studies (Bendixen et al., 1998; Curtis et al., 1988, Laupa, 1991; Presley, 1985; Rest, 1975; Turiel, 1994), the results of which had shown the inverse association of omniscient authority and principled moral reasoning.

An additional result, supporting previous researchers’ (Ji, 1997; Kohlberg, 1969;

Rest, 1986) findings, was the significant role of GPA. Although a self-reported estimate of how a student performs academically in college may indicate intellectual ability such as logical reasoning, it is interesting to find that syllogistic reasoning in both Korean and U.S. college students was not a strong predictor for using principled moral reasoning. The results of the present study indicate that active participation in formal academic

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engender moral development across cultures.

Rest (1994) stressed that the amount of formal education is a stronger predictor of principled moral reasoning scores than is age. In the present study this is not supported;

there were no significant relationships between principled moral reasoning and the four education levels in both Korean and U.S. students. In the U.S. sample, a student’s year in school accounted for about 1.3% of the variance in P scores. In the Korean sample, a student’s year in school accounted for about 0.9% in P scores.

Gilligan’s (1982) critique of Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning and her assertion that two modes of moral reasoning (justice and care) exist have been the subject of debate within the field of psychology for more than 15 years. In the current research there was no evidence that there are two tracks of development, one for women and one for men. In both the Korean and U.S. samples, Gilligan’s (1982) charge of gender-bias in Kohlberg’s model was not warranted by the present evidence.

In contrast to the similar relationships between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning among Korean and U.S. college students, the results of the present study also suggest that differences in the relationships between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning exist between the two cultural groups despite similar age and educational level.

Research on epistemological beliefs documented that individuals who believe in simple solutions to complex moral problems may be less inclined to explore broader, more dialectical solutions (Bendixen et al., 1998; Damon, 1988; Kohlberg, 1984; Piaget, 1997).

This does not appear to be the case with the Korean students, whereas in the U.S. sample belief in simple knowledge predicted the use of principled moral reasoning. Schommer

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they were to suggest that absolute answers would be difficult to obtain, because too many factors affected controversial issues and the nature of the issues would always be evolving. However, contrary to what would be predicted by Schommer’s findings, certain knowledge was not a strong predictor of principled moral reasoning scores in the U.S.

sample. In contrast, with the Korean students, belief in certain knowledge accounted for about 10.3% of the variance in P scores.

One explanation of these different results in the relation of epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning across cultures may be that epistemological beliefs may be relatively independent of one another (Schommer, 1990; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997) and may be influenced by and embedded in a system reflecting specific socio-cultural and educational environments. More specifically, although the five dimensions of “certainty of knowledge,” “omniscient authority,” “simple knowledge,” “innate ability,” and “quick learning” represent one’s beliefs about the nature of knowledge and knowledge acquisition, the results of the present study indicate that the dimensions may operate independently. Moreover, cultural differences might provide differing opportunities and constraints on epistemological and moral development. It is possible that in a more collectivist culture in which the view of self has more interindividual implications, personal theories of knowledge and knowing could evolve toward an acceptance of consensus, not a reliance on independent thinking (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Triandis, 1989; Triandis et al., 1988) In summary, the results of the present study indicate that cross-national similarities and differences simultaneously exist in psychological functioning. The

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authority in both the Korean and U.S. samples may provide evidence in support of the universal aspect of development. The significant differences in the relationships between moral reasoning and belief in simple knowledge and certain knowledge in the Korean and U.S. samples can be accounted for in terms of differences in cultural context.

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