Cognitive and affective processes associated with moral reasoning, and their relationship with behaviour in typical development
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Preparation for publication
Objective: Moral reasoning (MR) reflects rationalisation in the moral domain, which matures across development and is underpinned by cognitive and affective processes. Although MR is associated with offending behaviours the mechanisms for this association are unknown. Examining the role of cognitive and affective processes in MR, and their influence on behaviour, may enhance existing psychological interventions that aim to reduce offending behaviours, and facilitate the development of novel targeted interventions. The current study investigated the hypothesis that MR would mediate the relationship between executive functions (EFs) and behaviour, and between empathy and behaviour. Method: In a cross-sectional design, typically developing adolescents (n = 72) individually completed an assessment battery, including the sociomoral reflection measure-short form, neuropsychological measures of working memory and cognitive flexibility/inhibition, and self-report questionnaires of empathy and behaviour. The battery also contained an assessment of intellectual functioning, and obtained data on socioeconomic status and age as confounding variables. Results: MR was not associated with self-report behaviour and, therefore, did not mediate the relationship between EFs/empathy and self-reported behaviour. A novel relationship was demonstrated between working memory and MR, and cognitive flexibility/inhibition was associated with MR. Self-report empathy was not associated with MR. Exploratory analyses suggested that intelligence and EFs were significant unique predictors of MR, and that truth and law moral values were associated with self-reported behavioural difficulties. Conclusions: Findings suggest that global MR is not associated with self-reported behaviour in typically developing adolescents, however, there may be an association between some moral values and self-reported behaviour. Findings also suggested that empathy is not associated with MR in this population, which warrants further investigation. These findings have implications for theoretical models of MR, and psychological intervention programmes. Recommendations for future research are presented.