Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Teenagers' delinquency is associated with their attitudes to authority, not their moral development

Teenagers' propensity for antisocial behaviour is not related to their ability to think about the right and wrongs of a situation – their powers of moral reasoning. That's according to Hammond Tarry and Nicholas Emler who say their results have implications for interventions intended to reform young offenders.

The researchers tested the ability of 789 boys aged between 12 and 15 years to think about the rights and wrongs of different situations (based on Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development). They also asked the boys about their moral values, their attitudes to authority and their record of antisocial behaviour over the last twelve months.

Teenagers with a negative attitude towards authority, including their teachers and the police, tended to report committing more antisocial behaviours such as stealing or fighting. Their moral values, such as promise keeping and truth, were also related to their levels of delinquent behaviour, but crucially, their powers of moral reasoning were not.

“This puts in doubt the likely efficacy of interventions intended to reform young offenders by raising their moral reasoning level,” the researchers said. Targeting youths' attitudes to authority might be more effective, but the researchers cautioned that such attitudes “appear to possess considerable stability over time, indicating they are strongly held, deeply embedded in the individual's identity and resistant to change.”

Tarry, H. & Emler, N. (2007). Attitudes, values and moral reasoning. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25, 169-183.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Anonymous said...

"I beleive negative attitudes toward authority have strong links to anti-social behaviours including terrorism. Such individuals would I think have encountered troubled periods in their early lives with parents/teachers or other authoritative important others which may consequantly have such devastating behaviours. other factors which may also predispose to delinquent behaviours is their upbringing, their circle of friends etc. in addition to their social activities (i.e. violent video games). This mixture is a recipe for juvinile delinquency and a concern for society. Perhaps we should address educating teachers and other important persons in childrens lives to build better relationships with their students/children in addition to tighter control of video games."

Igroki said...

A degree of hatred of authority is a necessary response to adolescence. The article is spot on in saying that attempting to 'raise their moral reasoning level' is a waste of time. It is the most typical, reactive response to such a situation. I am constantly disgusted by this reponse.

Anonymous said...

I completly agree with this theory,however i also believe that other factors play a role in teenagers behavior.without tying down specific elements to such behavior,perhaps we should look at an intertwined approach combining both the authority issue with my personale favourite, which is some kind of modernised national service, but without the compulsary element.thanx

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