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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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In an exploration of the personal basis of resistance to authority, Presley reported that resisters measured high in level of moral judgment (Presley, 1985). On the test, moral judgment and attitudes toward authority were examined in 183 men and women political resisters and compared to 34 liberal and 29 conservative activists. The measures

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and social authority, a belief that individual conscience is a better guide to conduct than the law, a professed unwillingness to be in positions of authority over others, and the lack of conventional religious affiliation significantly differentiated the resisters from the nonresisters. Thus, Kohlberg’s (1969) research showing a link between principled reasoning and resistance behavior is strongly supported by the evidence in Presley’s study.

Other Related Studies: Studies Related to the Relationship among Epistemological Beliefs and Higher-Order Reasoning Previous research has linked epistemological beliefs to a variety of higher-order reasoning, including argumentative reasoning and reflective judgment (Bendixen et al., 1994; Kuhn, 1991; King & Kitchener, 1994). Bendixen et al. (1994) reported that beliefs in Fixed Ability, Simple Knowledge, and Quick Learning accurately discriminated between higher and lower reflective judgment even after age, education, and home environment were controlled. On this test, materials included the Epistemological Questionnaire and the Student Characteristics Survey, both developed by Schommer (1990). Additionally, based on their responses to a philosophical dilemma, subjects were assigned to 1 of 7 levels of the Reflective judgment Model by Kitchener and King (1981).

Results of a stepwise discriminant function analysis to examine the relationship between epistemological beliefs and reflective judgment indicated that individuals at higher levels of reflective judgment were less likely to endorse strong beliefs in Fixed Ability (approx.

F(4, 120) = 4.10, p.01), Simple Knowledge (approx. F(4, 120) = 2.85, p.05), and Quick Learning (approx. F(4, 120) = 2.50, p.05) than individuals at lower stages. This

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among high school students.

Kuhn (1991) reported that epistemological beliefs are related to argumentative reasoning. A critical element of Kuhn’s design was the inclusion of a broader sample of subjects. The participants formed four age groups: teens, 20s, 40s, and 60s. In the interest of eliciting reasoning about complex, real-world phenomena, Kuhn selected three current urban social problems as the basis for the interviews. In this study, each individual was classified as an absolutist (one who believes that knowledge is absolutely right or wrong), a multiplist (one who believes that knowledge is completely relative), or an evaluative theorist (one who believes that knowledge, though relative, is constrained by situational factors such as commonly accepted rules) on the basis of their beliefs about the certainty of knowledge. Evaluative theorists were more likely than absolutists to provide legitimate evidence in support of an argument. In addition, compared with absolutists, evaluative theorists generated a greater number of plausible alternative theories and provided better counterarguments (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997).

Building on the work of Perry, as well as Dewey’s work on reflective thinking, King and Kitchener have studied the epistemic assumptions that underlie reasoning (King & Kitchener, 1994; King & Kitchener, 2002). Fifteen years of interview studies with individuals from high school students through middle-age adults have led to the refinement of their reflective judgment model, a seven-stage developmental model that focuses on epistemic cognition, or “the ways that people understand the process of knowing and the corresponding ways they justify their beliefs about ill-structured problems” (King & Kitchener, 1994).

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each other and develop sequentially. They can be summarized into three general categories: the prereflective, the quasireflective, and the reflective. Generally, those in the prereflective period (stages 1-3) assume that knowledge is gained from an authority figure or through direct, personal observation. In other words, “to see is to know.” Knowledge gained in these ways is assumed to be absolutely correct. Individuals holding these assumptions often do not perceive the ambiguity in a situation even when clear uncertainty is presented to them. During the quasireflective period (stages 4 and 5), individuals recognize that real uncertainty exists about some issues. They argue that knowledge can not be had with certainty. They do not understand, however, how to justify knowing anything in the face of ambiguity and often conclude many points of view are equally correct. By contrast, at the reflective level, an individual’s assumptions represent the epistemological position that although knowledge is not a “given,” probabilistic knowledge can be constructed by evaluating existing evidence and expert opinion (King & Kitchener, 1994).

King and Kitchener’s model (1994) provides a useful framework for understanding the development of reasoning skills as they relate to changes in beliefs about the certainty and verifiability of knowledge. Individuals whose reasoning is typical of earlier stages view their world in a rather fixed and limited way, on the assumption that knowledge is certain; individuals in later stages see the world in a more flexible way, on the assumption that knowledge is not fixed.





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Studies reported here suggest that epistemological beliefs are related to varieties of skilled thinking such as moral and argumentative reasoning, reflective judgment, and complex problem solving. The studies’ findings suggest that students’ naive beliefs hinder critical aspects of learning, whereas sophisticated beliefs facilitate higher level learning and moral reasoning. More specifically, these studies suggest three general

conclusions:

1. Epistemological beliefs are related to reasoning even when other variables are removed from the equation (Bendixen et al., 1998; Bendixen et al., 1994).

2. Some beliefs are better predictors of the unique variation in skilled reasoning scores; beliefs about simple knowledge, certain knowledge, and omniscient authority played especially important roles in P scores (Bendixen et al., 1998; Walker et al., 1991);

beliefs in fixed ability, simple knowledge, and quick learning accurately discriminated between higher and lower reflective judgment (Bendixen et al., 1994); beliefs about certain knowledge played especially important roles in argumentative reasoning (Kuhn, 1991; King & Kitchener, 1994).

3. There is a negative relationship between the acceptance of authority and P scores (Curtis et al., 1988; Presley, 1985; Rest et al., 1974).

Despite consistent evidence of the relationship between epistemological beliefs and skilled reasoning, however, we should note that the relationship between moral reasoning and other various kinds of complex thinking remain unclear. For instance, the Reflective Judgment Interview and DIT scores correlated moderately (between.46 and.58) (King, Kitchener, Wood, & Davison, 1989; King, Kitchener, & Wood, 1991, see

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positive but were lower when the effects of age and number of years of higher education were statistically controlled. King and Kitchener (1994) proposed that the development of reflective judgment is a necessary but not sufficient precursor of moral judgment. Wood (1993) also evaluated the necessary but not sufficient relationship between the two measures on the six-year retest. For this reason, there might be a danger in drawing firm conclusions about the relationship between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning, based on the findings of a paucity of studies (i.e., Bendixen et al., 1998; Walker et al.,

1991) directly related to this topic as well as studies related to the relationship between epistemological beliefs and other higher-order reasoning. Therefore, additional studies are needed to examine the complex interrelationships between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning.

The existing literature in this area, on the other hand, is solely based on the responses of American subjects living in U.S. cultural contexts. Multiple questions remain to be answered from the conceptual and empirical relationship between the models to their generalizability to non-Euro-Americans to the mechanisms for the acquisition and change of epistemological and moral assumptions. Therefore, a crosscultural analysis of the relations is required between epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning.

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In the context of the initial choice of variables for any quantitative study, related literature may be helpful in suggesting some predictor variables – for practical or theoretical purposes (Huberty & Petoskey, 1999).

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A fuller explanation of epistemological beliefs as related to moral development was found within the Review of Literature in the section on the relationship among epistemological beliefs and moral reasoning.

Education as Related to the Development of Moral Judgment Research using the Defining Issues Test of moral judgment on the effects of college upon moral judgment development has examined whether there is a “college effect” – that is, a gain in moral judgment associated with going to college (Rest & Narvaez, 1991). Indeed, exposure to academia and the college experience has been shown to correlate positively with increased levels of moral reasoning (Davison, 1979;

Kitchener, King, Parker, & Wood, 1984; Rest, 1979; Rest & Thoma, 1985; Rest et al., 1999).

Davison (1979) reported on a composite sample of 1,080 subjects made up of about 250 junior high students, 250 senior high students, 250 college students and 250 graduate students. The age range was 15 to 82 years, 424 males and 452 females. The sample was a composite of 23 smaller studies from various parts of the United States, each reporting education as well as P score. An ANOVA produced a main effect for educational level (p.001), indicating very strong differentiation of education groups on the DIT. In a later composite sample of 4,565 subjects (Rest, 1979) from 136 different samples, grouping subjects by four educational levels produced a highly statistically significant finding, accounting for 38% to 49% of the DIT variance. Also, Thoma (Rest et al., 1999) compiled 56 studies into a composite sample of 6,863 subjects. Grouping by the four education levels (junior high, senior high, college, and graduate school), he

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accounted for only 0.2% of the variance.

Age as Related to the Development of Moral Judgment It is commonly accepted that maturational effects are threats to the validity of any research involving teleological change. Kohlberg’s (1984) theory of moral development proposed that moral reasoning ability increases over time, and both theory and research confirm that age is positively correlated to increasing moral reasoning scores through adolescence.

This study, however, concerns college students, adults who are 18 years of age or older. Research involving college students has produced contradictory results (Maclean, 2001). There is evidence that moral reasoning abilities increase in college and at a rate faster than the general population, with older students scoring higher than younger students (Kurtines, 1982; Rykiel, 1995). However, Duckett, Rowan, Ryden, and Krichbaum (1997), reporting on changes in moral reasoning between entry and exit from a baccalaureate nursing program (n = 348), found that age did not contribute significantly to explaining DIT measured moral reasoning score variance. Also, in a study of 143 graduate and undergraduate students from two universities in Florida, Bateman (1999) found no significant effect of age on moral development. Additionally, as previously noted, Bendixen et al. (1998) examined the relationship among age, education, gender, syllogistic reasoning skill, epistemological beliefs, and moral reasoning in undergraduate students (n = 154). Results of the regression analysis reported that neither the age nor the education variables reached significance once gender was entered into the equation.

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(1997) did not find a significant correlation with either age or education with moral reasoning scores. When age and education and their interaction were combined, she found that age and education combined are positively related with moral reasoning and result in higher P scores from the DIT. These results suggest an age-education interaction effect. Similarly, in Rykiel’s (1995) study, a significant age-work interaction occurred in that older students who worked less scored highest in moral reasoning scores.

Additionally, a number of large-scale secondary analyses of several thousand subjects each indicate that age-education differences account for about 40% to 50% of the variance in moral judgment scores (Rest, 1986). As previously discussed, years in college or professional school are very powerful in promoting development of moral judgment (Rest, 1994) Cognitive Skills as Related to the Development of Moral Judgment An understanding of Kohlberg’s moral stages requires a clarification of the relationship between cognitive skill and moral reasoning development. Since moral reasoning includes logical reasoning, advanced moral reasoning depends on advanced logical reasoning. Kohlberg (1971a) asserted that intellectual ability may set a ceiling on moral reasoning: a person’s ability to reason logically puts an upper limit on the moral stage one can attain. There is also debate as to whether or not moral reasoning is anything other than ethically valid logical reasoning (Fasco, 1994).

DIT scores are significantly related to cognitive capacity measures of moral comprehension (r =.60s) and to a lesser degree other cognitive developmental measures (Rest et al., 1999; Rest, Narvaez, Thoma, & Bebeau, 2000). In a study of 144

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