Eisenberg's Theory of Moral Development

By Amy Cocke

Nancy Eisenberg developed her theory of moral development as a rebuttal to Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development. She believed children are able to use all of the stages of moral development they have experienced, rather than being confined to their current stage.

Self-centered Reasoning

The first level children reach is self-centered reasoning, where the child is concentrating on what is the benefit to himself for doing something. Most preschoolers and younger elementary-school-age children think this way.

Needs-oriented Reasoning

In needs-oriented reasoning, the child is motivated by what she sees her needs as being. A small percentage of preschoolers may think this way, but mostly this level is seen in elementary-age children.

Stereotyped and/or Approval-oriented Reasoning

Stereotyped and/or approval-oriented reasoning is associated with a few elementary-age children and with some adolescents. This level involves the child's perceptions of what will gain him approval from the people around him.

Empathetic Reasoning

When a child reaches the empathetic reasoning level, she learns to recognize how her behaviors affect the people around her and it affects her. Though a few elementary-age children reach this level, it is mostly seen in adolescents.

Partly Internalized Principles

By the time people reach adulthood, they begin to use partly internalized principles to determine what to do. These are personal values a person holds, though he may not have considered his values thoroughly.

Strongly Internalized Principles

Most people will never reach the strongly internalized principles level. This is the level where most of a person's motivations come from wanting to live up to her own personal values.