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Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987)

moral development children cognitive

Born in Broxville, N.Y., Lawrence Kohlberg was a professor of Education and Social Psychology at Harvard University and is best known for his influential work in moral development and moral education.

As a young man, Kohlberg served in the U.S. Merchant Marine after World War II. He then volunteered to help smuggle Jewish refugees out of Europe and through a British blockade into British-controlled Palestine. He was captured and held in a detention center on Cyprus, finally being rescued by the Haganah, a Jewish fighting force.

Kohlberg's interest in morality developed from these experiences and from the theories of Jean Piaget, who studied the cognitive development of children. In his doctoral dissertation, Kohlberg examined the ways that children reason about what is right and wrong. He presented boys, ages ten to sixteen, with a series of moral dilemmas—stories about people in situations who had to make difficult decisions. The most famous dilemma asks whether a man whose wife is dying from a rare form of cancer should steal the only medicine that might save her life from a scientist who refuses to sell the drug at a price the man can afford.

Based on this research, Kohlberg developed his theory of moral development. He proposed three levels of moral reasoning. At the first level (pre-conventional), children's decisions are based on avoiding punishment and receiving rewards. At the second level (conventional), upholding the rules of society is the highest value. At the highest level (post-conventional), individuals follow universal moral principles that may be more important than the rules of a particular country or group. Clearly Kohlberg was influenced by his own experiences when he broke England's law in order to carry out what he believed was a higher moral imperative: to aid refugees of the Holocaust.

Kohlberg extended his theory into practice with applications to moral education in classrooms. Following criticism that his work dealt with moral reasoning, but not moral action, he developed a program in which participatory democracy in the classroom served as the basis for moral development.

A major debate about Kohlberg's theories was sparked by Carol Gilligan, a professor at Harvard, whose research reflected the view that women's morality differs from that of men's, on whom most of Kohlberg's research was based.

Kohlberg also applied the cognitive-developmental approach to the development of gender identity. His research showed that children's understanding of gender is linked to their level of cognitive development.


Publications by Kohlberg

"A Cognitive-Developmental Analysis of Children's Sex-Role Concepts and Attitudes." In E. E. Maccoby ed., The Development of Sex Differences. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1966.

The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984.

Child Psychology and Childhood Education: A Cognitive Developmental View. New York: Longman, 1987.

Laura E. Levine

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almost 9 years ago

In response to Michelle's answer for Q2.
No one actually knows how Kohlberg died. It's POSSIBLE that Kohlberg committed suicide, but it's impossible to be sure.

If you don't know the answer to something, you shouldn't spread an answer if it isn't proven.

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about 7 years ago

he had two kids...

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over 9 years ago

Q1) What was he 'like' doing in a civil war?

A)Unless he had flat feet or another medical condition, ALL young, healthy men had to fight in the war! It was called National Service...a practice that still exists today in alot of countries!

Q2)Do he have kids?

A)No- he's dead now...committed suicide in 1987. And no, I don't think he had kids while he was alive!

Q3) What were his beliefs about children?

A)I'm pretty sure Kohlberg was from the behaviourist camp, so his ideals would have been in the same league as Locke: children are a blank slate and what they learn from experiance & external influences, shapes them in to adults. He was a follower of Piaget's cognitive approach to development, so he would have also been a fan of the Nurture (rather than nature) theory of personality growth.

Q4) Did he have a theory of communication?

A)You need to look up Lev Vygotsky. Kohlberg dealt more with morality and decission making. You need to define what it is about communication that you want to know!

Q5)What was his experiment?

A) He didn't have one- you can't experiment on children: it would be unethical. He STUDIED children's responses to theoretical moral dilemma's. Look him up on Google Scholar...or simply read this page again!

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over 7 years ago

I like Kohlberg if you have a moral dilemma he is very easy to relate to comparing or linking your thoughts to the knowledge he expresses is easy to understand if you are seeking the right info for what you are trying to deliver. Gilligan I agree with also if your a feminist than shes a good developmental theorist to use. If you think like a robot than don't use Kohlberg or Gilligan. I'm just sayin.

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over 9 years ago

What was He like doing in civil war they speak upon what he think about kids but he do he have kids and if he do d he ever relate his kids on his experiment????

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about 10 years ago

what are his beliefs about children

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over 10 years ago

Did he have a theroy on communication?

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about 9 years ago

Thank you very much for this source. BB

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about 8 years ago

Kohlberg researched on children giving them stories of a dieing wife. Do you think a young children can have an idea concerning saving a dieing wife? On the same he should exclude stage six in his classification since the stage is never achieved.

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over 8 years ago

I wrote a thesis on Childhood Moral Development as related to abused children in 1996. I researched Dr. Kohlbergs' work and biography extensively. The inference from what I could gather was that he chose to end his own life.

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over 10 years ago

um, what wa his experiment?

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over 7 years ago

How is Kohlberg's theory useful to community services work?


What are the strengths and possible weaknesses of this theory?

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about 3 years ago

Thanks for information The5th company top services for packing and moving services in India

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about 6 years ago

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