An exploration of moral reasoning development in college freshmen and its relationship with epistemological beliefs and need for cognition
The moral reasoning development of college freshmen was investigated over the course of a semester. Participants were tested at the beginning of the semester and at the end of the semester and were either in a course that required active engagement in critical thinking (e.g. perspective-taking, reflection) about social and political issues or in a course that did not provide such opportunities. Past literature supports a link between the aforementioned experiences and the promotion of moral judgment development (Rest, 1986; King & Mayhew, 2005; Schlaefli, Rest, & Thoma, 1985). In addition to moral reasoning development, the individual characteristics of epistemological beliefs and need for cognition were measured because an interaction between the environment and the individual may relate to the development of moral judgment (Rest & Narvaez, 1991; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Change in moral reasoning was not observed for either course type; it is possible that changes occurred outside of the confines of the semester, but the study was not designed to account for this possibility. Additionally, results indicated relationships between moral reasoning development and epistemological beliefs, as well as need for cognition. Implications of the present study relate to promoting moral judgment development in educational settings, including consideration of individual characteristics related to thinking dispositions and views about the nature of knowledge.