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Capturing the Complexity of Moral Development and Education


Larry Nucci, Institute of Human Development, 1121 Tolman Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1690; e-mail:


This article discusses challenges educators face when attempting to sequence moral education. Two factors are identified as primary sources hindering efforts to engage in effective moral education: (a) the premature application of research findings from developmental psychology to classroom practices and (b) the underestimation of the complexity of interactions between development in students' social and moral understandings and their applications in social contexts. Research is reviewed demonstrating that morality develops alongside concepts about societal conventions and zones of personal discretion and privacy. Results of an ongoing study are presented pointing toward a U-shaped pattern in moral development in which frequency of moral choices is higher among younger children and older adolescents than among early adolescents. Research examining contextual moral decision making is discussed in relation to efforts to sequence moral education.