Exploration of the Relationship Between Moral Judgment Development and Attention

Lauren Clark, Western Kentucky University


Research in moral psychology has focused on understanding what factors assist in the development of moral action and decision making. The purpose of this study was to address whether variability in attention relates to moral judgment development. The reason for exploring moral judgment development was to further explore the research of Thoma and Bebeau (2008) who documented that the moral development scores of college and graduate students has been declining over time, with more college-aged students scoring in the lower levels of moral reasoning. Attention was chosen as a viable topic of research, based on the writings of Carr (2008a) who suggests that technology has had an impact on the way that individuals read and process information. College students from Western Kentucky University were recruited via the Psychology Department Study Board. Participants first took the Defining Issues Test-2 (DIT2) online and then scheduled a subsequent session in the laboratory to take the Test of Everyday Attention (TEA). The DIT2 assesses three levels of moral reasoning advancing by level: Personal Interests, Maintaining Norms, and Postconventional schemas. The TEA assesses four different types of attention: divided attention, attentional switching, selective attention, and sustained attention. In a sample of 79 college students, results revealed that stronger attention abilities were related to higher postconventional reasoning. However, decreases in attention were not related to lower personal interests reasoning. Attentional switching, selective attention, and sustained attention were particularly influential where postconventional reasoning was concerned. The trends observed in this study were somewhat expected as moral judgment development is regarded and verified as a cognitive intellectual process. In light of the information provided by the results of this study, future studies are recommended to determine how efforts to facilitate improved attention might ultimately translate to improved moral judgment development. Research has shown that interventions aimed at improving attention are successful (Kerns, Eso, & Thomson, 1999). In conclusion, this study supports the notion that attention does pertain to moral judgment scores as inferred by the DIT2. The effect of the TEA scores on the DIT2 postconventional scores was strong (R2 = .237).