7 Moral-Character Education

Educational Psychology

  1. Daniel K. Lapsley PhD1,
  2. David Yeager PhD2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop207007

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Lapsley, D. K. and Yeager, D. 2012. Moral-Character Education. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 7:7.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Notre Dame, Department of Psychology, Notre Dame, IN, USA

  2. 2

    University of Texas, Department of Psychology, Austin, TX, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


The moral-character formation of children and adolescents is an imposing challenge for parents and educators, and it has attracted significant research interest for decades. We review orienting assumptions that guide moral-character education (MCE) and the centrality of values in schools and classrooms. The moral and character education paradigms are contrasted in terms of underlying ethical theory, tradition of liberal education and preferred pedagogical strategies. Three theoretical approaches that guide moral-character programs are reviewed: moral stage theory, domain theory and moral self-identity. Next we summarize recent systematic reviews of “what works” in MCE. We note that when MCE is defined narrowly so that moral character is an explicit target of a program or intervention, evidence in favor of MCE is slight. But when MCE is defined broadly to include interventions that target a wide range of psychosocial competencies, risk reduction, health promotion, or achievement outcomes, then positive evidence is more availing. Third, we review cautionary evidence on effective delivery mechanisms of social interventions. We argue that the how of moral character education—including decisions such as explicit, transparent instruction versus more subtle and “stealthy” methods—may be as important in efforts to produce morally functioning adults as the what of moral character education—that is, moral reasoning versus character traits. We conclude with implications for classroom practice and for teacher education.


  • moral development;
  • domain theory;
  • character;
  • self-identity;
  • social-emotional learning;
  • interventions;
  • education