This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Affective Experience of Moral Decision Making




Creel, Laura

Type of Degree



Counselor Education
School Psychology
Counseling Psychology


This research represents an attempt to use Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, the work of Neo-Kohlbergian theorist James Rest, and the theory of affect proposed by David Watson, as a framework for exploring the affective experiences that adults of different moral developmental levels face as they make moral decisions. Because Kohlberg and Rest focused primarily upon the cognitive processes in moral development, there is a paucity of theoretical literature and research on this phenomenon. Taking into account the available research and theory-based literature on moral development as defined by Kohlberg and Rest, and affective experience as defined by Watson, one research question was posed in this project. Do people at different levels of moral development have different positive and negative affective experiences as they engage in the process of moral decision-making? Using a survey research design, 87 randomly selected adult graduate students from Auburn University completed three questionnaires, beginning with a demographic questionnaire. The Defining Issues Test- Version 2 (DIT-2) measured the independent variable, Level of Moral Development. The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule – Expanded Form (PANAS-X) measured the two dependent variables, Positive Affect and Negative Affect. Participants were asked to complete the PANAS-X to report their affective experiences while completing the DIT-2, which served as the moral decision-making stimulus. Analyses of variance (ANOVA) revealed no statistically significant differences in the positive and negative affective experiences of participants at three different levels of moral development. Other statistical analyses revealed that the mean Positive Affect score was significantly higher than the mean Negative Affect score for the entire sample. Additional analyses of scores on the other eleven affect scales within the PANAS-X revealed no significant differences in the affective experiences of participants in the three different moral developmental groups. Although the two null hypotheses failed to be rejected in this study, investigating concomitant developmental changes in the emotional and cognitive experiences of moral reasoning in adults addresses deficits in adult moral developmental research, provides a more comprehensive view of moral decision making for clinical purposes, and potentially broadens the scope and applicability of Kohlbergian and Neo-Kohlbergian theory.