Moral-Emotional Responsiveness: A Two-Factor Domain of Conscience Functioning

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The purpose of this study was to assess the progression in development of moral-emotional responsiveness in children and adolescents and to examine the relationship of this progression with previously identified stages of conceptualization of conscience.


Using three semistructured questions from the Stilwell Conscience Interview, 132 normal volunteers between the ages of 5 and 17 years were assessed regarding comprehension of their emotional responses to moral stimuli.


Rational analysis of the responses identified six items; each item was scaled for complexity into five stages. Factor analysis of the six items revealed two factors: moral-emotional responsiveness 1 contained items relating to external anxiety, internal anxiety, and mood; more-emotional responsiveness 2 contained items relating to the restoration of psychophysiological equilibrium through the processes of reparation and healing. Differences between conceptualization stages, with the moral-emotional responsiveness factors serving as dependent variables, were accounted for by stage differences in age and the positive correlations between the moral-emotional responsiveness factors and age.


Moral-emotional responsiveness is a two-factor domain of the conscience. The findings provide additional developmental guidelines for assessing conscience development and functioning both in clinical practice and in research.

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