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

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Abstract

Objective:

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.

Method:

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.

Results:

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.

Conclusions:

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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