The purpose of the study was to gain a greater understanding of moral understanding by differentiating moral understanding from moral motivation. Moral understanding was assessed by presenting hypothetical moral conflicts and dilemmas and using a variety of measures to explore children's understanding of moral principles and moral reasoning. Two measures of strength of moral motivation were used. For younger children (ages 4-9) emotion attributions to hypothetical wrongdoers was the measure. For older children (ages 10-11) a global evaluation was made based on their reactions to hypothetical moral conflicts and dilemmas. The results suggest that children's moral understanding includes a grasp of abstract principles and is not just rote learning of concrete rules. However, their adequate cognitive moral understanding by no means implies they are competent moral actors. Implications for Kohlberg's theory of moral development are discussed. © 1998 Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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