What is morality?

morality is the set of principles or ideals that help the individual to distinguish good from evil, to act in accordance with this distinction and to take pride in virtuous and guilty conduct that violates its rules.

internalization is the process of adopting other people’s attributes or norms; taking these norms as one’s own

How developmental scholars view morality

Each of the three main theories of moral development focuses on a different component of morality: Moral affects (Psychoanalysis), moral reasoning (Cognitive Development Theory) and moral behavior (Social Learning and Information Processing Theory).

Psychoanalytic explanations of moral development

Sigmund Freud claims that babies and toddlers lack superego and act on their selfish impulses unless parents control their behaviour. However, once the overself emerges, it acts as an internal sensor that makes the child feel proud or ashamed of his behaviour.

Freud’s theory of oedipal morality

The Overself develops in the phallic stage after the Oedipus Complex or Electra. It is then that the child internalises the moral values of his parent of the same sex. For Freud, the internalisation of the Overself in a girl is weaker than in the case of boys.

Evaluation of Psychoanalysis


  • Moral emotions such as pride, shame or guilt are potential determinants of ethical behavior
  • Internalization is an important step towards moral maturity
  • Parents with severe discipline often have children who misbehave.
  • Boys do not develop a stronger superego than girls
  • Internalization may have begun before the Oedipus complex
  • Parents with severe discipline often have children who misbehave.
  • Boys do not develop a stronger superego than girls
  • Internalization may have begun before the Oedipus complex.

Theory of cognitive development

For the theorists of cognitive development both cognitive growth and social experience are determining factors for moral development.

Piaget’s theory of moral development

The first works of Piaget on morality focused on respect for rules and conceptions of justice.

  • The premoral period: The first 5 years of life, when children show little respect or interest in socially defined rules
  • Heteronomous morality (5 to 10 years old): Piaget’s first stage of moral development, in which children consider the rules of authority figures to be sacred and unalterable. They tend to focus on consequences. Immanent conduct: unacceptable conduct will be punished invariably and justice is always present in the world
  • Autonomous morality (10-11 years): children realize that rules are arbitrary agreements that can be challenged and modified with the consent of the persons who govern them. They tend to focus on intent. Reciprocal punishment: to make him understand what he has done.

The movement from heteronomous morality to autonomous morality occurs when children learn to place themselves in the viewpoint of others.


  • Children around the world are more likely than adults to have heteronomous morality

  • Children who take part in group activities as leaders tend to make more mature moral judgments.
  • Children assign more weight to the consequences, but that doesn’t mean they overlook the intentions.
  • Piaget believes that children think of rules as sacred prescriptions. In reality, children see rules in 2 ways: moral rules (focus on welfare and basic rights such as hitting, etc.) or conventional social rules (regulate behavior in certain situations such as eating in class, etc.). They consider the former to be much more serious, and by the age of 6 they are able to question adult authority.
  • Parents can impede children’s moral development when they adopt an authoritarian approach, although they rarely use this type of moral values discourse. By the age of 6 or 7, children make moral judgments, as long as the parents instill them in them without challenge.

Kohlberg’s theory of moral development

For Kohlberg , moral development is not yet complete at the age of 10-11. For him, the development occurs in an invariable sequence (cognitive development is required) of 3 levels that are divided into 2 stages each. Each stage represents a type of moral thinking and not a moral decision.



Level 1: Pre-conventional morality. The rules are not yet internalized. The child obeys rules imposed by authority figures to avoid punishment or to obtain personal rewards. What is right is what is achieved without punishment.stage 1: Orients towards punishment and obedience .

Evil or good or goodness depends on its consequences. “if you don’t get caught, it’s not bad”
Stage 2: Naive Hedonism.
Rules for personal rewards are followed. The other is taken into account, but only for personal reasonsLevel 2: Conventional morality. Moral judgements are based on the desire to obtain approval or to preserve the laws that maintain social order.stage 3: Orientation of the good boy or girl .

Moral behavior is that which pleases, helps or is approved by others. Actions are evaluated on the basis of the author’s intent. The main objective is to be considered a good person.
Stage 4: Morality of maintaining social order .

Generalization of the individual. The will of society reflects the law. The reason to conform is the social order.level 3: Post-conventional morality .Moral rules are based on social contracts, democratic laws or universal ethical principles.stage 5: The orientation of the social contract.

Laws are instruments for expressing the will of the majority of people and stimulate human values.
Stage 6: Morality of individual principles of consciousness .

Good and evil are defined by individual ethical principles and transcend any law or social attribute.

Bibliographic references :

  • Piaget, J., Inhelder, B. (2008). “Child psychology”. Morata.
  • Shaffer, D. (2000). “Psicología del desarrollo, infancia y adolescencia”, 5ªed., Ed. Thomson, México, pp.