Moral reasoning and ideological affiliation: A cross-national study

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While theories of moral development claim to be structural and bias-free, empirical data consistently report significantly lower levels of moral development among political conservatives. These findings are disturbing for two reasons: either they cast doubt on the bias-free claim of cognitive developmental theory, or they point to a fundamental moral flaw in conservative political ideology. To understand the relationship of moral development and political ideology data were collected from members of pro-life and pro-choice organizations in the United States and settlers' and peace groups in Israel (N=547). Two important changes were made in existing research designs. First, moral development and political behavior are examined in a cross-cultural context relative to ideological affiliations, i.e. actual behavior rather than subjective evaluations of political ideology. Second, a closed-end moral judgment test measuring both affective and cognitive aspects of moral development is employed. In the American sample significant cognitive differences were found between conservative and liberal subjects, the latter scoring consistently higher on all measures. These differences moderate considerably when education and income are controlled, suggesting that there is no bias in cognitive theory. This conclusion is confirmed by the Israeli sample. The Israeli subjects drew from similar socioeconomic background, and no differences in moral development were found. The Israeli groups also showed greater levels of political independence and lower levels of stereotyping than the American groups. The ramifications of these findings for political education and discourse are discussed in the conclusion of the paper.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-338
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1996


  • Ideology
  • Kohlberg
  • Moral development
  • Political affiliation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations


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