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Introduction Social Skills Anger Control Training
Moral Reasoning

Moral Reasoning

Moral reasoning is the third intervention of ART.®
If armed with the enhanced ability to respond prosocially to the real world and the skills necessary to control or at least diminish impulsive anger and aggression, will the chronically acting-out youth choose to use these skills?
When used separately, each of the three interventions (Skillstreaming, Anger Control Training and Moral Reasoning) results in substantial change in those whom to it is directed. But in each instance, limitations on the changes obtained exist. Both Skillstreaming and Anger Control Training yield reliable short-term alterations in trainees' target behaviors. But neither has been shown to have equally reliable longer term effects.
Moral Reasoning Training seems to influence values, but much less frequently can changes in moral behavior be shown. Therefore the combination of these three interventions provides more reliable and longer term positive outcomes than each could individually. Three different, but overlapping rationales support this contention.
Concluding: in order to be effective, treatment programs for anti-social youths must have a moral component (Gibbs, Potter, & Goldstein, 1995).

Whether a youth's moral reasoning is mature or delayed is important because: "as you think, so you act". Delay in thought and behavior means two problems:

Both these aspects of delay are remediated in the moral developmental teaching component of ART®.

1. Delay as prolonged immaturity

Kohlberg's (1969, 1973, 1984) main stages are conceptualized as developmental levels of moral immaturity and maturity.
Stages 1 and 2 represent immature or superficial moral judgement; an adolescent or adult operating at these stages has a developmental delay in moral reasoning.
Stages 3 and 4 represent mature or profound moral reasoning and should be the norm for any culture.

Youths normally progress from a relatively superficial (physical or pragmatic) level to a more profound or mature level of interpersonal and sociomoral reasoning. Youths who even in the adolescent years show little or no moral reasoning beyond Stage 2 are considered to be developmentally delayed. Research (Gregg et al.,1994) analyzing moral judgement delay by area of moral value, claims that these youths have a delay in every area. The area of greatest delay concerns the reasons for obeying the law.
Nondelinquents generally give Stage 3 reasons. For example: people's mutual expectations of adherence to the law and the selfishness of lawbreaking. By contrast, delinquent youths generally use reasoning that appeals to the risk og getting caught and going to jail (Stage 2 reasons).

2. Delay as persistent and pronounced cognitive distortions

Research (Yochelson and Samenow 1976,1977; Gibbs and Potter, 1992) has identified a particularly frequent series of cognitive distortions regularly made by easy-to-anger and chronically aggressive youths. Chief among these are self-centered thinking errors reflecting a singularly egocentric bias. This means thinking as according to one's own views, expectations, needs, rights, immediate feelings, and desires to such an extent that the legitimate views of others are scarcely considered or are disregarded altogether (Gibbs, Potter and Goldstein, 1995).

The "How I Think Questionnaire" is a device designed to measure cognitive distortions.
An example of items:

  • If I see something I like, I take it.
  • If I lie to people, that's nobody's business but my own

  • The first frequently occurring cognitive distortion characteristic of aggressive youths is an egocentric bias, a me-first, me-only stance to life experiences (as reflected by the scale-items reflect). Such bias is a natural feature of thought and behavior in childhood. Normally, egocentric bias declines with experience as children see their self-interest in light of the welfare of others.

    Assuming the worst is a second frequently occurring cognitive distortion characteristic of aggressive youths. It is a distortion evident in a number of ways:
  • Belief that one's own behavior or that of others cannot change.
  • Belief in the worst about people and their motivations
  • Belief in worst-case scenarios in life.

  • Blaming others is a third chronic distortion. This misperception means misattributing blame for one's harmful actions to outside sources, especially to another person, a group, or a momentary aberration (like one was drunk, in a bad mood etc), or misattributing blame for one's victimization or other misfortune to innocent others.

    Minimizing/mislabeling is a fourth chronic distortion. This error is depiciting antisocial behavior as causing no real harm or as being acceptable or even admirable. Such thinking serves and abets egocentricity by weakening inhibitions to aggress and by neutralizing pangs of conscience.

    In addition to these four mayor errors in perception and cognition, chronically aggressive youths, not infrequently rationalize a type of false consensus, in which they believe as they do. They also display a strong resistance to change, or anchoring, even in the face of substantial contrary evidence.

    Changing Cognitive distortions

    Cognitive distortions are not easily changed. Typically they have been well practiced, finely honed, and from the youth's perspective, have worked well, often for many years. To the extent that antisocial behavior reflects a delay of mature moral reasoning and egocentric bias, the aim of an effective program is to remediate that developmental delay. In effect, antisocial youths need a concentrated dose of social perspective taking opportunities.

    ART® promotes the development of sociomoral reasoning through social decision making meetings. The substance of these meetings constitutes Moral Reasoning Training. The goal is to facilitate progress along the natural stage-sequential trajectory of moral-cognitive development so that youths will make more mature decisions in social situations.
    In these structured social decision making meetings, the group strives to develop the capacity to make mature decisions concerning 10 specific problem situations. Every member has to defend its decision to the group, which also means that they have to defend their opinion to members who function at a higher level of moral reasoning.
    This is crucial to develop a mature level.

    Four phases of sociomoral development

  • 1. Introducing the problem situation. To have an effective session, all group members must understand clearly what the problem situation is and how it relates to their lives.

  • 2. Cultivating mature morality. The group leader during this phase exploits the potential for mature morality. The trainer cultivates a group atmosphere of mature morality characterized by both positive decisions and mature moral reasoning.

  • 3. Remediating moral developmental delay. Youths with delayed reasoning can seriously undermine the group culture and will do so if allowed. Remediating moral developmental delay means creating social perspective taking opportunities or challenging individuals to consider other -especially more mature- viewpoints.

  • 4. Consolidating mature morality. Once mature morality has been cultivated and challenged, it needs to be consolidated. The group's mature morality is consolidated as the group leader seeks consensus for positive decisions and mature reasons.