Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

What Science Tells Us About Why We Lie

When are we most (and least) likely to lie?

“Could switching to Geico really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance? Was Abe Lincoln honest?” So intones the Geico commercial spokesperson, followed by faux vintage film footage of Mary Lincoln asking her husband, “Does this dress make my backside look big?” Honest Abe squirms and shifts, then hesitates and, while holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart, finally mutters, “Perhaps a bit,” causing his wife to spin on her heels and exit in a huff.

The humor works because we recognize the question as a disguised request for a compliment or as a test of our love and loyalty. According to neuroscientist Sam Harris in his 2013 book Lying (Four Elephants Press), however, even in such a scenario we should always tell the truth: “By lying, we deny our friends access to reality—and their resulting ignorance often harms them in ways we did not anticipate. Our friends may act on our falsehoods, or fail to solve problems that could have been solved only on the basis of good information.” Maybe Mary’s dressmaker is incompetent, or maybe Mary actually could stand to lose some weight, which would make her healthier and happier. Moreover, Harris says, little white lies often lead to big black lies: “Very soon, you may find yourself behaving as most people do quite effortlessly: shading the truth, or even lying outright, without thinking about it. The price is too high.” A practical solution is to think of a way to tell the truth with tact. As Harris notes, research shows that “all forms of lying—including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others—are associated with poorer-quality relationships.”

Most of us are not Hitlerian in our lies, but nearly all of us shade the truth just enough to make ourselves or others feel better. By how much do we lie? About 10 percent, says behavioral economist Dan Ariely in his 2012 book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty (Harper). In an experiment in which subjects solve as many number matrices as possible in a limited time and get paid for each correct answer, those who turned in their results to the experimenter in the room averaged four out of 20. In a second condition in which subjects count up their correct answers, shred their answer sheet and tell the experimenter in another room how many they got right, they averaged six out of 20—a 10 percent increase. And the effect held even when the amount paid per correct answer was increased from 25 to 50 cents to $1, $2 and even $5. Tellingly, at $10 per correct answer the amount of lying went slightly down. Lying, Ariely says, is not the result of a cost-benefit analysis. Instead it is a form of self-deception in which small lies allow us to dial up our self-image and still retain the perception of being an honest person. Big lies do not.

Psychologists Shaul Shalvi, Ori Eldar and Yoella Bereby-Meyer tested the hypothesis that people are more likely to lie when they can justify the deception to themselves in a 2013 paper entitled “Honesty Requires Time (and Lack of Justifications),” published in Psychological Science. Subjects rolled a die three times in a setup that blocked the experimenter’s view of the outcome and were instructed to report the number that came up in the first roll. (The higher the number, the more money they were paid.) Seeing the outcomes of the second and third rolls gave the participants an opportunity to justify reporting the highest number of the three; because that number had actually come up, it was a justified lie.

Some subjects had to report their answer within 20 seconds, whereas others had an unlimited amount of time. Although both groups lied, those who were given less time were more likely to do so. In a second experiment subjects rolled the die once and reported the outcome. Those who were pressed for time lied; those who had time to think told the truth. The two experiments suggest that people are more likely to lie when time is short, but when time is not a factor they lie only when they have justification to do so.

Perhaps Mary should not have given Abe so much time to ponder his response.

X

When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them—or worse, who credibly rebut them—they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.

Steven Pinker

(Source: facebook.com)

wildcat2030:

During the Enlightenment, the French philosopher Voltaire called superstition a “mad daughter” and likened it to astrology. The leading thinkers of the time espoused reason and sought to explain the world through the scientific method.
Today, we take a certain pride in approaching the world analytically. When faced with a confusing event, we search for its cause and effect. If we can determine why one action follows another, we can explain why it happened and when it might recur in the future. This makes the outcome reliable.
The fact is that any of us can become superstitious given the right circumstances. You included.
go read..

wildcat2030:

During the Enlightenment, the French philosopher Voltaire called superstition a “mad daughter” and likened it to astrology. The leading thinkers of the time espoused reason and sought to explain the world through the scientific method.

Today, we take a certain pride in approaching the world analytically. When faced with a confusing event, we search for its cause and effect. If we can determine why one action follows another, we can explain why it happened and when it might recur in the future. This makes the outcome reliable.

The fact is that any of us can become superstitious given the right circumstances. You included.

go read..

TED | Phillip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil

Philip Zimbardo was the leader of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment — and an expert witness at Abu Ghraib. His book The Lucifer Effect explores the nature of evil; now, in his new work, he studies the nature of heroism.

The Powerlessness of Positive Thinking

"Since publishing “The Secret,” in 2006, the Australian author Rhonda Byrne has been writing self-help manifestos based on the idea that people who think positive thoughts are rewarded with happiness, wealth, influence, wisdom, and success… There’s no denying that many people have found comfort in Byrne’s ideas. Like religion, they offer an appealing, non-technical solution to life’s biggest problems while demanding nothing more of their adherents than faith."

…According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding. In one experiment, the social psychologists Gabriele Oettingen and Doris Mayer asked eighty-three German students to rate the extent to which they “experienced positive thoughts, images, or fantasies on the subject of transition into work life, graduating from university, looking for and finding a job.” Two years later, they approached the same students and asked about their post-college job experiences. Those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries. The same was true in other contexts, too. Students who fantasized were less likely to ask their romantic crushes on a date and more likely to struggle academically. Hip-surgery patients also recovered more slowly when they dwelled on positive fantasies of walking without pain…

In a provocative new analysis, Oettingen and her colleagues have suggested that public displays of positive thinking may even predict downturns in major macroeconomic outcomes…

we-are-star-stuff:

Too Close For Comfort
One of the most common taboos across human societies of the past and present has been incest. Virtually every known culture has considered it repulsive, especially when involving siblings or a parent and child. The leading behavioural theory that has been proposed to account for the ubiquity of this aversion is known as the Westermarck effect, after Finnish scholar Edvard Westermarck, who proposed it in his 1891 book The History of Human Marriage. 
The idea of the Westermarck effect is that young children will become sexually/romantically desensitised to anyone they live in close contact with over the course of the first few years of their lives. That is, they will reach adulthood with no compulsion to consider a relationship with anyone they shared a home with in their early childhood. The connection doesn’t have to be biological; according to the theory, it applies just as readily to children adopted at a young age as to those raised by their birth parents. But since children are likely to be raised by at least one of their biological parents the effect is thought to have arisen through evolution because it reduces the chances of inbreeding, which can tie the gene-pool up in ugly knots of emergent recessive traits. However, when a child is separated from biological family at an early age, there is no chance for the Westermarck effect to take hold; reunions between biological relatives who were separated much earlier sometimes lead into unforeseen emotional territory.
The Westermarck effect is a hypothesis, but there is evidence to support it. Some Israeli citizens live in communal homesteads named kibbutzes. Property is usually shared, income is often doled out more or less equally, and children are all raised together in groups according to age. Unsurprisingly, the kibbutz model has been of major interest to sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists. The finding relevant to the Westermarck effect is that young adults in the same age-group are seldom attracted to each other, even when their parents more or less expect them to be. A study by American cultural anthropologist Melford Spiro that examined 3,000 marriages within the kibbutz system found that only about 15 weddings involved pairs of people who were raised in the same group of children. Furthermore, none of these pairs had been raised with their partners before the age of six. This strongly suggests a sort of ‘critical period’ for the Westermarck effect, operating behind-the-scenes for the first six years of life.
Another source of evidence for the Westermarck effect comes from what happens when it is noticeably absent. Genetically related individuals who are not raised together often fail to be sexually and romantically blind to each other. That is, when a pair of biologically related individuals meet for the first time in adulthood, they often find each other very attractive. Genes ensure that the two have a lot in common, and the absence of the Westermarck effect sometimes makes them difficult for one another to resist. This is a converse theory known as genetic sexual attraction (GSA).
GSA is not inevitable, but it is common. The term was coined by American Barbara Gonyo. Pregnant at 15 in the mid-1950s, Gonyo was forced to give her son Mitch up for adoption when he was born. The two found each other again around 1980, and Gonyo, then 42, was horrified to realise that she was feeling very attracted to her 26-year-old son. Even allowing for Mitch’s resemblance to his father, Gonyo’s first love, Gonyo’s reaction struck her as extreme and disgusting. Eventually, though, she came to terms with her feelings, attributing them to the lack of bonding in her son’s early childhood. Fortunately, her son did not reciprocate, and they did not pursue a relationship.
But in some cases of genetic sexual attraction, the feelings are mutual. A Canadian woman identified as ‘Sally’ and her biological son felt immediately attracted to one another upon meeting again, 30 years after the boy’s birth. Their physical relationship developed, and the young man could hardly believe that the woman he found to be a perfect match was his biological mother. Germans Patrick and Susan – biological siblings who did not meet until adulthood – fell in love, have given birth to four children (at least two of whom are developmentally disabled), and have been fighting German incest laws ever since. Americans Phil and Pearl became highly attracted to one another after meeting; Pearl is Phil’s biological grandmother, who gave Phil’s mother up for adoption after giving birth to her at the age of 18. American couple Rachel and Shawn met when they were both 27 and have been a happy couple since. They sought each other out after learning that they shared a birth father. Rachel and Shawn – who are engaged but legally prohibited from getting married – are devout Christians, but their deep love for one another is what they consider the most important part of their lives.
Few scientific investigations of the phenomenon known as GSA exist, but one was conducted by Maurice Greenberg and Roland Littlewood of University College London. The researchers looked at more than 40 cases of GSA and ended up concluding that up to 50% of reunions between adults who had been separated by early adoption involve GSA on the part of at least one of the individuals. In other words, what looks like taboo most of the time appears to be a fairly ordinary response to the exceptional circumstances of biological family members being brought back together long after parting. Greenberg notes that the connections established between reunited family members tend to be profound and respectful, and nothing at all like cases of incest involving non-consenting individuals. He also found evidence for the Westermarck effect operating elsewhere in his participants’ lives: when Greenberg asked individuals affected by GSA whether they would ever consider forming romantic/sexual relationships with members of their adopted families, they tended to shudder with repulsion.
One major question raised by any examination of sexual relationships involving biological family members is where, exactly, this leaves Sigmund Freud. Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis has contributed an immense amount to the modern field of psychology, but he has become notorious for having proposed that infants are sexually attracted to the parent of the opposite sex and that these feelings have to be suppressed. While there is some evidence that heterosexual men and women may favour potential partners who share physical features with their opposite-sex parents, for most of us the thought of sexual attraction to a parent is absurd. Freud didn’t think much of Westermarck’s ideas, and he himself actively recalled having once had a fairly noticeable physical reaction to his naked mother getting dressed. But, says cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, it is Westermarck who may have the last word. Pinker speculates that the reason why Freud was able to have such a dramatic response to the sight of his own mother putting her clothes on was that as a baby, Sigmund had been cared for by a wet nurse. Perhaps it was this nurse, and not his mother, to whom Sigmund became desensitised; in other words, the Westermarck effect was not fully activated between the young Freud and his biological mother. “The Westermarck theory” Pinker says in summary, “has out-Freuded Freud.”
[source]

we-are-star-stuff:

Too Close For Comfort

One of the most common taboos across human societies of the past and present has been incest. Virtually every known culture has considered it repulsive, especially when involving siblings or a parent and child. The leading behavioural theory that has been proposed to account for the ubiquity of this aversion is known as the Westermarck effect, after Finnish scholar Edvard Westermarck, who proposed it in his 1891 book The History of Human Marriage.

The idea of the Westermarck effect is that young children will become sexually/romantically desensitised to anyone they live in close contact with over the course of the first few years of their lives. That is, they will reach adulthood with no compulsion to consider a relationship with anyone they shared a home with in their early childhood. The connection doesn’t have to be biological; according to the theory, it applies just as readily to children adopted at a young age as to those raised by their birth parents. But since children are likely to be raised by at least one of their biological parents the effect is thought to have arisen through evolution because it reduces the chances of inbreeding, which can tie the gene-pool up in ugly knots of emergent recessive traits. However, when a child is separated from biological family at an early age, there is no chance for the Westermarck effect to take hold; reunions between biological relatives who were separated much earlier sometimes lead into unforeseen emotional territory.

The Westermarck effect is a hypothesis, but there is evidence to support it. Some Israeli citizens live in communal homesteads named kibbutzes. Property is usually shared, income is often doled out more or less equally, and children are all raised together in groups according to age. Unsurprisingly, the kibbutz model has been of major interest to sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists. The finding relevant to the Westermarck effect is that young adults in the same age-group are seldom attracted to each other, even when their parents more or less expect them to be. A study by American cultural anthropologist Melford Spiro that examined 3,000 marriages within the kibbutz system found that only about 15 weddings involved pairs of people who were raised in the same group of children. Furthermore, none of these pairs had been raised with their partners before the age of six. This strongly suggests a sort of ‘critical period’ for the Westermarck effect, operating behind-the-scenes for the first six years of life.

Another source of evidence for the Westermarck effect comes from what happens when it is noticeably absent. Genetically related individuals who are not raised together often fail to be sexually and romantically blind to each other. That is, when a pair of biologically related individuals meet for the first time in adulthood, they often find each other very attractive. Genes ensure that the two have a lot in common, and the absence of the Westermarck effect sometimes makes them difficult for one another to resist. This is a converse theory known as genetic sexual attraction (GSA).

GSA is not inevitable, but it is common. The term was coined by American Barbara Gonyo. Pregnant at 15 in the mid-1950s, Gonyo was forced to give her son Mitch up for adoption when he was born. The two found each other again around 1980, and Gonyo, then 42, was horrified to realise that she was feeling very attracted to her 26-year-old son. Even allowing for Mitch’s resemblance to his father, Gonyo’s first love, Gonyo’s reaction struck her as extreme and disgusting. Eventually, though, she came to terms with her feelings, attributing them to the lack of bonding in her son’s early childhood. Fortunately, her son did not reciprocate, and they did not pursue a relationship.

But in some cases of genetic sexual attraction, the feelings are mutual. A Canadian woman identified as ‘Sally’ and her biological son felt immediately attracted to one another upon meeting again, 30 years after the boy’s birth. Their physical relationship developed, and the young man could hardly believe that the woman he found to be a perfect match was his biological mother. Germans Patrick and Susan – biological siblings who did not meet until adulthood – fell in love, have given birth to four children (at least two of whom are developmentally disabled), and have been fighting German incest laws ever since. Americans Phil and Pearl became highly attracted to one another after meeting; Pearl is Phil’s biological grandmother, who gave Phil’s mother up for adoption after giving birth to her at the age of 18. American couple Rachel and Shawn met when they were both 27 and have been a happy couple since. They sought each other out after learning that they shared a birth father. Rachel and Shawn – who are engaged but legally prohibited from getting married – are devout Christians, but their deep love for one another is what they consider the most important part of their lives.

Few scientific investigations of the phenomenon known as GSA exist, but one was conducted by Maurice Greenberg and Roland Littlewood of University College London. The researchers looked at more than 40 cases of GSA and ended up concluding that up to 50% of reunions between adults who had been separated by early adoption involve GSA on the part of at least one of the individuals. In other words, what looks like taboo most of the time appears to be a fairly ordinary response to the exceptional circumstances of biological family members being brought back together long after parting. Greenberg notes that the connections established between reunited family members tend to be profound and respectful, and nothing at all like cases of incest involving non-consenting individuals. He also found evidence for the Westermarck effect operating elsewhere in his participants’ lives: when Greenberg asked individuals affected by GSA whether they would ever consider forming romantic/sexual relationships with members of their adopted families, they tended to shudder with repulsion.

One major question raised by any examination of sexual relationships involving biological family members is where, exactly, this leaves Sigmund Freud. Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis has contributed an immense amount to the modern field of psychology, but he has become notorious for having proposed that infants are sexually attracted to the parent of the opposite sex and that these feelings have to be suppressed. While there is some evidence that heterosexual men and women may favour potential partners who share physical features with their opposite-sex parents, for most of us the thought of sexual attraction to a parent is absurd. Freud didn’t think much of Westermarck’s ideas, and he himself actively recalled having once had a fairly noticeable physical reaction to his naked mother getting dressed. But, says cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, it is Westermarck who may have the last word. Pinker speculates that the reason why Freud was able to have such a dramatic response to the sight of his own mother putting her clothes on was that as a baby, Sigmund had been cared for by a wet nurse. Perhaps it was this nurse, and not his mother, to whom Sigmund became desensitised; in other words, the Westermarck effect was not fully activated between the young Freud and his biological mother. “The Westermarck theory” Pinker says in summary, “has out-Freuded Freud.”

[source]

Human beings are pattern-seeking animals who will prefer even a bad theory or a conspiracy theory to no theory at all.

Christopher Hitchens

The world will go on without us after we die—a monstrously heartless thing for it to do.

Jennifer Ouellette, The Science of the Self

7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution

So what can science tell us about our not-so-scientific minds? Here’s a list of cognitive traits, thinking styles, and psychological factors identified in recent research that seem to thwart evolution acceptance…

confrontingbabble-on:

Animals can act in moral ways. We are human animals.
"Moral Development: by Dr. C. George Boeree
Kohlberg’s Theory Traditionally, psychology has avoided studying anything that is loaded with value judgements.  There is a degree of difficulty involved in trying to be unbiased about things that involve terms like “good” and “bad!”  So, one of the most significant aspects of human life - morality - has had to wait quite a while before anyone in psychology dared to touch it!  But Lawrence Kohlberg wanted to study morality, and did so using a most interesting (if controversial) technique.  Basically, he would ask children and adults to try to solve moral dilemmas contained in little stories, and to do so outloud so he could follow their reasoning.  It wasn’t the specific answers to the dilemmas that interested him, but rather how the person got to his or her answer.One of the most famous of these stories concerned a man named Heinz.  His wife was dying of a disease that could be cured if he could get a certain medicine.  When he asked the pharmacist, he was told that he could get the medicine, but only at a very high price - one that Heinz could not possibly afford.  So the next evening, Heinz broke into the pharmacy and stole the drug to save his wife’s life.  Was Heinz right or wrong to steal the drug?There are simple reasons why Heinz should or should not have stolen the drug, and there are very sophisticated reasons, and reasons in between.  After looking at hundreds of interviews using this and several other stories, Kohlberg outlined three broad levels and six more specific stages of moral development.Level I:  Pre-conventional morality.  While infants are essentially amoral, very young children are moral in a rather primitive way, as described by the two preconventional stages.    Stage 1.  We can call this the reward and punishment stage.  Good or bad depends on the physical consequences:  Does the action lead to punishment or reward?  This stage is based simply on one’s own pain and pleasure, and doesn’t take others into account.    Stage 2.  This we can call the exchange stage.  In this stage, there is increased recognition that others have their own interests and should be taken into account.  Those interests are still understood in a very concrete fashion, and the child deals with others in terms of simple exchange or reciprocity:  “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  Children in this stage are very concerned with what’s “fair” (one of their favorite words), but are not concerned with real justice.Level II:  Conventional morality.  By the time children enter elementary school, they are usually capable of conventional morality, although they may often slip back into preconventional morality on occasion.  But this level is called conventional for a very good reason:  It is also the level that most adults find themselves in most of the time!    Stage 3.  This stage is often called the good boy/good girl stage.  The child tries to live up to the expectations of others, and to seek their approval.  Now they become interested motives or intentions, and concepts such as loyalty, trust, and gratitude are understood.  Children in this stage often adhere to a concrete version of the Golden Rule, although it is limited to the people they actually deal with on a day-to-day basis.    Stage 4.  This is called the law-and-order stage.  Children now take the point of view that includes the social system as a whole.  The rules of the society are the bases for right and wrong, and doing one’s duty and showing respect for authority are important.Level III:  Post-conventional morality.  Some adolescents and adults go a step further and rise above moralities based on authority to ones based on reason.    Stage 5.  The social contract stage means being aware of the degree to which much of so-called morality is relative to the individual and to the social group they belong to, and that only a very few fundamental values are universal.  The person at this level sees morality as a matter of entering into a rational contract with one’s fellow human beings to be kind to each other, respect authority, and follow laws to the extent that they respect and promote those universal values.  Social contract morality often involves a utilitarian approach, where the relative value of an act is determined by “the greatest good for the greatest number.”    Stage 6.  This stage is referred to as the stage of universal principles.  At this point, the person makes a personal commitment to universal principles of equal rights and respect, and social contract takes a clear back-seat:  If there is a conflict between a social law or custom and universal principles, the universal principles take precedence.Kohlberg’s original work was done with boys.  When the research began to include girls, they found the girls to be less morally “developed” than the boys!  Psychologist Carol Gilligan, involved in that research, began to notice that it wasn’t so easy to distinguish “good boy/good girl” from “universal principles”, especially in the girls. Since then, psychologists have readjusted their work to take into account for the fact that girls often express their morality in terms that emphasize personal caring more than abstract principles.Bronfenbrenner’s TheoryAnother psychologist unafraid to tackle morallity was Urie Bronfenbrenner.  He is famous for his studies of children and schools in different cultures.  He outlines five moral orientations:    1.  Self-oriented morality.  This is analogous to Kohlberg’s pre-conventional morality.  Basically, the child is only interested in self-gratification and only considers others to the extent that they can help him get what he wants, or hinder him.The next three orientations are all forms of what Kohlberg called conventional morality:    2.  Authority-oriented morality.  Here, the child, or adult, basically accepts the decrees of authority figures, from parents up to heads of state and religion, as defining good and bad.    3.  Peer-oriented morality.  This is basically a morality of conformity, where right and wrong is determined not by authority but by one’s peers.  In western society, this kind of morality is frequently found among adolescents, as well as many adults.    4.  Collective-oriented morality.  In this orientation, the standing goals of the group to which the child or adult belongs over-ride individual interests.  Duty to one’s group or society is paramount.The last orientation is analogous to Kohlberg’s  post-conventional level:    5.  Objectively oriented morality. By objectively, Bronfenbrenner means universal principles that are objective in the sense that they do not depend on the whims of individuals or social groups, but have a reality all their own.Bronfenbrenner noted that while 1 is found among children (and some adults) in all cultures, 6 is found in relatively few people in any culture.  The differences between 2, 3, and 4 are more a matter of culture than of development.  Many cultures promote strict obedience to authority figures.  One can see this in very conservative cultures, where the word of the religious authorities is law.  In many modern cultures, conformity to one’s peers is a powerful force.  And in others still, the welfare of the collective group is considered far more important than that of the individual.Bronfenbrenner also talks about how we get movement from one orientation to another.  The movement from 1 to 2, 3, or 4 involves participation in the family and other social structures, where concern for others begins to take precedent over concern for oneself.Movement from 2, 3, or 4 to 5 occurs when a person is exposed to a number of different moral systems which at least partially conflict with each other, a situation he calls moral pluralism.  This forces the person to begin to think about what might lie beneath all the variation, and lead him or her to consider ultimate moral principles.  Gaining a broader experience of the variety of people in the world, for example, tends to advance one’s moral thinking.On the other hand, sometimes people slide back down to the lowest orientation when they suffer from the disintegration of social structures, as in war and other social disasters.  This can force a person’s attentions back onto their own needs, and cause them to begin ignoring the welfare of larger social groupings. “
http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/genpsymoraldev.html

confrontingbabble-on:

Animals can act in moral ways. We are human animals.

"Moral Development: by Dr. C. George Boeree

Kohlberg’s Theory
Traditionally, psychology has avoided studying anything that is loaded with value judgements.  There is a degree of difficulty involved in trying to be unbiased about things that involve terms like “good” and “bad!”  So, one of the most significant aspects of human life - morality - has had to wait quite a while before anyone in psychology dared to touch it!  But Lawrence Kohlberg wanted to study morality, and did so using a most interesting (if controversial) technique.  Basically, he would ask children and adults to try to solve moral dilemmas contained in little stories, and to do so outloud so he could follow their reasoning.  It wasn’t the specific answers to the dilemmas that interested him, but rather how the person got to his or her answer.

One of the most famous of these stories concerned a man named Heinz.  His wife was dying of a disease that could be cured if he could get a certain medicine.  When he asked the pharmacist, he was told that he could get the medicine, but only at a very high price - one that Heinz could not possibly afford.  So the next evening, Heinz broke into the pharmacy and stole the drug to save his wife’s life.  Was Heinz right or wrong to steal the drug?

There are simple reasons why Heinz should or should not have stolen the drug, and there are very sophisticated reasons, and reasons in between.  After looking at hundreds of interviews using this and several other stories, Kohlberg outlined three broad levels and six more specific stages of moral development.

Level I:  Pre-conventional morality.  While infants are essentially amoral, very young children are moral in a rather primitive way, as described by the two preconventional stages.

    Stage 1.  We can call this the reward and punishment stage.  Good or bad depends on the physical consequences:  Does the action lead to punishment or reward?  This stage is based simply on one’s own pain and pleasure, and doesn’t take others into account.

    Stage 2.  This we can call the exchange stage.  In this stage, there is increased recognition that others have their own interests and should be taken into account.  Those interests are still understood in a very concrete fashion, and the child deals with others in terms of simple exchange or reciprocity:  “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”  Children in this stage are very concerned with what’s “fair” (one of their favorite words), but are not concerned with real justice.

Level II:  Conventional morality.  By the time children enter elementary school, they are usually capable of conventional morality, although they may often slip back into preconventional morality on occasion.  But this level is called conventional for a very good reason:  It is also the level that most adults find themselves in most of the time!

    Stage 3.  This stage is often called the good boy/good girl stage.  The child tries to live up to the expectations of others, and to seek their approval.  Now they become interested motives or intentions, and concepts such as loyalty, trust, and gratitude are understood.  Children in this stage often adhere to a concrete version of the Golden Rule, although it is limited to the people they actually deal with on a day-to-day basis.

    Stage 4.  This is called the law-and-order stage.  Children now take the point of view that includes the social system as a whole.  The rules of the society are the bases for right and wrong, and doing one’s duty and showing respect for authority are important.

Level III:  Post-conventional morality.  Some adolescents and adults go a step further and rise above moralities based on authority to ones based on reason.

    Stage 5.  The social contract stage means being aware of the degree to which much of so-called morality is relative to the individual and to the social group they belong to, and that only a very few fundamental values are universal.  The person at this level sees morality as a matter of entering into a rational contract with one’s fellow human beings to be kind to each other, respect authority, and follow laws to the extent that they respect and promote those universal values.  Social contract morality often involves a utilitarian approach, where the relative value of an act is determined by “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

    Stage 6.  This stage is referred to as the stage of universal principles.  At this point, the person makes a personal commitment to universal principles of equal rights and respect, and social contract takes a clear back-seat:  If there is a conflict between a social law or custom and universal principles, the universal principles take precedence.

Kohlberg’s original work was done with boys.  When the research began to include girls, they found the girls to be less morally “developed” than the boys!  Psychologist Carol Gilligan, involved in that research, began to notice that it wasn’t so easy to distinguish “good boy/good girl” from “universal principles”, especially in the girls. Since then, psychologists have readjusted their work to take into account for the fact that girls often express their morality in terms that emphasize personal caring more than abstract principles.

Bronfenbrenner’s Theory

Another psychologist unafraid to tackle morallity was Urie Bronfenbrenner.  He is famous for his studies of children and schools in different cultures.  He outlines five moral orientations:

    1.  Self-oriented morality.  This is analogous to Kohlberg’s pre-conventional morality.  Basically, the child is only interested in self-gratification and only considers others to the extent that they can help him get what he wants, or hinder him.

The next three orientations are all forms of what Kohlberg called conventional morality:

    2.  Authority-oriented morality.  Here, the child, or adult, basically accepts the decrees of authority figures, from parents up to heads of state and religion, as defining good and bad.

    3.  Peer-oriented morality.  This is basically a morality of conformity, where right and wrong is determined not by authority but by one’s peers.  In western society, this kind of morality is frequently found among adolescents, as well as many adults.

    4.  Collective-oriented morality.  In this orientation, the standing goals of the group to which the child or adult belongs over-ride individual interests.  Duty to one’s group or society is paramount.

The last orientation is analogous to Kohlberg’s  post-conventional level:

    5.  Objectively oriented morality. By objectively, Bronfenbrenner means universal principles that are objective in the sense that they do not depend on the whims of individuals or social groups, but have a reality all their own.

Bronfenbrenner noted that while 1 is found among children (and some adults) in all cultures, 6 is found in relatively few people in any culture.  The differences between 2, 3, and 4 are more a matter of culture than of development.  Many cultures promote strict obedience to authority figures.  One can see this in very conservative cultures, where the word of the religious authorities is law.  In many modern cultures, conformity to one’s peers is a powerful force.  And in others still, the welfare of the collective group is considered far more important than that of the individual.

Bronfenbrenner also talks about how we get movement from one orientation to another.  The movement from 1 to 2, 3, or 4 involves participation in the family and other social structures, where concern for others begins to take precedent over concern for oneself.

Movement from 2, 3, or 4 to 5 occurs when a person is exposed to a number of different moral systems which at least partially conflict with each other, a situation he calls moral pluralism.  This forces the person to begin to think about what might lie beneath all the variation, and lead him or her to consider ultimate moral principles.  Gaining a broader experience of the variety of people in the world, for example, tends to advance one’s moral thinking.

On the other hand, sometimes people slide back down to the lowest orientation when they suffer from the disintegration of social structures, as in war and other social disasters.  This can force a person’s attentions back onto their own needs, and cause them to begin ignoring the welfare of larger social groupings.

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/genpsymoraldev.html

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