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Outline and evaluate one or more pro-social theories of moral understanding

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Outline and evaluate one or more pro-social theories of moral understanding Eisenberg provided a stage theory of moral understanding, which in congruence with the cognitive theories of Piaget and Kohlberg, is based on the idea that morals develop as a maturational process alongside other cognitive skills. The first stage is 'self-centered', whereby the child's main concerns (up to 7 years of age) are themselves; however later on, empathy develops and, by the age of 16 years, the individual's helping behaviour is based on strongly-internalised beliefs and values. However, much like other stage theories, this can be criticised for being both reductionist and deterministic, as it does not take into account individual differences with regard to the sequence and completion of the stages. That is, some people may not progress through all the stages, some may 'skip' a stage and some may even regress. Going against this criticism, however, Eisenberg suggested that children can reason from several different levels (even those above their age) ...read more.


This supports the theory as the lack of ability to be concerned caused the children not to take action. Gender differences are not accounted for by Eisenberg's theory. Feshbach (1982) found that males are less empathetic than females at any one point in their life. Eisenberg et al. (1991) suggested, however, that this difference may be explained by the fact that girls' cognitive maturation is faster than that of girls. Cross-cultural differences have also been found in Eisenberg's theory, which may be criticised for being eurocentric. Research has found that European children changed from hedonistic to needs-oriented reasoning, as suggested by Eisenberg, but research in collectivist cultures, such as Israeli kibbutzim, has found that children there tend to emphasise communal values in their morals. This indicates that it is not only cognitive ability that influences pro-social behaviour, but also the society in which the child lives. An alternative theory of the development of pro-social reasoning is provided by Hoffman, who saw empathy as an involuntary reaction to emotional stimuli. ...read more.


In addition to explaining the stages of pro-social development, Hoffman explained the role of discipline in children's moral development. He suggested that a child who is punished, without explanation, for performing anti-social behaviour may continue to perform that behaviour, but avoid punishment by not performing the behaviour in the presence of somebody who will punish them. However, if the discipline is accompanied by an explanation of how the child's behaviour affects somebody else, or if pro-social behaviour is praised, then the child's empathetic development will improve. This is supported by Baumrind (1971), who found that parents who attempted to instill pro-social behaviour into their children by means of rules and punishment were not successful. Grusec (1982) found that praise for pro-social behaviour led to behaviours in the future such as spontaneous help on the part of the child. This has implications for parenting and education, indicating that strict parenting and teaching styles based primarily on punishment are unlikely to work. Clive Newstead ...read more.

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