What Is Moral Development? What “Self-Conscious” Emotion Is The Most Relevant To Moral Development?

Morality is a phase of development in which a person develops emotional and behavioral stability. People are more clear to differentiate between right and wrong. Being self-conscious, also known as self-reflection, is a part of moral development. Follow this article to learn about what is moral development and what self-conscious emotion is the most relevant to moral development. 

A moral development is when a person reaches the age of maturity and distinguishes between “good”, “bad”, and “evil”. Moral development is something an individual experiences through their experiences. They learn from their mistakes, acknowledge the good in other people, and learn how to move on from a negative or toxic environment. It is not necessary that an adult individual only knows what’s wrong and what’s right for them. As mentioned above, moral development is something that a person gains from their life experiences.

Whatever lessons we learn from life itself are not something we are prepared for but we fight those battles anyway. An individual who knows what’s good and even has a sense of self reflection is morally developed. Follow this article to explore more about what is moral development and what “self-conscious” emotion is the most relevant to moral development.

What is moral development?

Moral development means the changes in a person’s beliefs regarding good and bad. Moral development is not the same as moral behavior. A person may know what’s the right thing to do but it depends if he/she does it or not. Through this development a person learns the value of ethics and values. An individual learns the meaning of fairness and justice through his maturity which comes with moral development.

It gives a person awareness of his surroundings and makes him realize his role as an individual. But when it comes to moral behavior, there is a possibility that a person does not behave according to his morality. Moral development is all about the growth which takes place when the right time comes. No society can survive if its members don’t have basic moral values. Perhaps it will be able to survive but it can never be successful.

The first step of moral development is always moral reasoning. Ask yourself, “is it fair?” “Is this the right thing to do?” All of these questions will start your development morally. Moral reasoning has no age, even children of 3 – 4 years of age ask these questions. They are eager to learn, it is our duty as an adult to let them know the right answer. Then comes self reflection, you have to realize that you cannot be right all the time. Sometimes you make mistakes, the important thing is how much have you learned from those mistakes. You do a self evaluation and learn a few things about yourself.

What is Kohlberg’s theory of moral development?

Lawrence Kohlberg adapted an originally conceived idea of a psychologist, Jean Piaget. He expanded upon this theory throughout his life and gave the idea of moral development. Kohlberg proposed three stages of moral development each stage was sub-divided into two stages. He associated moral development with cognitive development. According to him, every individual goes through these three stages at their respective time.

Kohlberg used Piaget’s story telling technique about the pharmacist and the drug. He used Piaget’s story about a woman suffering from cancer and the doctor tells her that only one drug could save her. The pharmacist agrees to sell the drug for 2000$ per dosage, the woman’s husband tries to negotiate with the pharmacist for 1000$ per dosage but he doesn’t agree. At the end, the husband steals the drug from the pharmacy to save his wife. Kohlberg asked the question, “Should the husband have done that?”

Kohlberg was never interested in finding the answer to his question as everyone had a different answer. He classified everyone’s reasoning to their stage of moral development. According to him, a person’s answers to that question will be according to their moral level.

Stages of moral development:

Kohlberg divided development into three primary stages and each stage was then divided into two more stages. Following are the stages of moral development according to Kohlberg.

  • Level 1 – Preconventional morality
    • Obedience and punishment
    • Individualism and exchange
  • Level 2 – Conventional morality
    • Developing good interpersonal relationship
    • Maintaining social order
  • Level 3 – Post conventional morality
    • Social contract and individual rights
    • Universal principles

Level 1 – Preconventional morality:

Preconventional morality is the first stage of moral development. It lasts till 9 years of age and it depends on the decisions of adults. This stage is primarily shaped by the reward for obedience and punishment for disobedience. This stage is subdivided into the following levels:

Obedience and punishment:

At this level, a person is taught the difference between good and bad through obedience and disobedience. According to Kohlberg, people at this stage view rules and regulations as fixed; they think that breaking a rule will always result in punishment. People at this stage look up to their adults before they reason their doing. At this stage people believe in obeying the rules and regulations to avoid any punishments.

Individualism and exchange:

At the individualism and exchange stage a person will behave according to how their needs are met. They give what is being served to them. According to Kohlberg, people at this stage will react according to how everyone acts with them.

Level 2 – Conventional morality:

At the conventional morality stage of moral development a person will start to accept the social rules and will follow them. A person will look up to his/her role model and the society itself to l;earn the norms and accepted behavior. Conventional morality is subdivided into the following two stages:

Developing good interpersonal relationships:

This stage is often referred to as the orientation stage. At this stage a person is introduced to societal rules and is told about the good boy/good girl behavior. Interpersonal relationships play a huge role in moral development. Having comfort and consideration can influence a person’s way of thinking and acting.

Maintaining social order:

At this stage a person will start to focus more on law and order. They will think of society as a whole and judge accordingly. A person will react to a problem within the societal laws and rules. Maintaining social order will be an utmost priority.

Level 3 – Post conventional morality:

At the stage post conventional morality, people will have complete understanding of the universal principles. It is subdivided into the following two stages:

Social contract and individual rights:

At this stage, a person will understand all the societal laws but he/she may not follow all of them. A person can have different opinions, thoughts, and ideas. Having different opinions is fine but you have to respect others beliefs as well. This will help in maintaining societal order.

Universal principles:

This is the final stage of moral development. At this stage, everyone will know about the universal principles of right and wrong. Everyone will know the principles of justice, even if they follow different rules and regulations. Maybe some people don’t act on those principles but still they know what is wrong and what is right.

What is the relationship between emotions and moral development?

Emotions or feelings play a huge role in the moral development of a person. Most people may not know but emotions can change a person’s decisions and life choices. Some experts believe that it is impossible for a person to make a moral decision without having emotions. Even the negative emotions like; shame, anger, guilt, and hatred can influence a person’s way of living a lot. Although most people may use negative emotions as a way of punishing others or themselves.

Positive emotions like; love, sympathy, or empathy can also work in favor of others. Empathy is the most common moral emotion a person can experience. According to experts, empathy plays a huge role in the moral choices of a person. Especially if those choices are related to a person’s religious values or traditional values. Empathy will help a person understand other people’s feelings and care about them. Everyone who wants to live a morally constructive life will always find a balance between emotional morality and their moral behavior.

The link between moral development and emotions is very clear. A person with either negative emotions or positive emotions will make choices that reflect those emotions. Emotions play a huge role in a person’s life from when they were infants. For example; when a baby hears another baby carrying, they will also start crying. Even when the baby turns two or three, they develop a sense of sharing and loving others. They will share their toys with other children and learn to play with them.

As a person grows they realize the importance of emotions from their role models. Empathy and other positive emotions like love and sympathy will help a person make right and moral choices. People will learn the difference between good and bad through different emotions. People will learn to control their emotions as they grow, they will learn that not every emotion is good and it is not necessary if you express your emotions.

What “self-conscious” emotion is the most relevant to moral development?

According to researchers, shame and guilt are the most self-conscious emotions which are relevant to moral development. Self conscious emotions are a part of self realization and self reflection. There are many emotions that are a part of your self-conscious emotions like; pride, shame, guilt, and embarrassment. But shame and guilt are the most relevant ones.

Self conscious emotions will give you instant response on whether what you are doing is right or wrong. Even a person who does not behave according to the moral rules and regulations, he/she will also have some self emotions reflecting their deeds. Thus, self-conscious emotions can have a great impact on a person’s choice, it can affect the way a person behaves.

Shame and Guilt – the most relevant to moral development:

From the start, a person is told to obey a set of rules otherwise, they will face punishment. When an individual breaks any of the societal roles, they experience guilt. They start thinking all the ways they should have behaved and fear punishment. But when a person is called out in front of everyone for their mistakes then, they experience shame. Shame can also transform into anger and hatred if the person is not conscious enough.

Experts believe that shame is a public emotion. People will show this emotion even when they are in public regarding an act they performed or they witnessed a person doing. Whereas guilt is more of a private emotion, an individual will feel guilt in private after the self reflection. Shame and guilt are often experienced when a person violates a societal or moral rule. To be feeling these emotions means you are morally developed. There may be individuals who don’t feel these self-conscious emotions as they have turned off their morality and they don’t follow societal rules and regulations.

The difference between shame and guilt is that people perceive shame as a negative evaluation. A person who has been shamed in front of everyone will think that every other individual now thinks bad of him/her and thus begins the negative self evaluation. Whereas, a guilty person will only focus on his/her conscience. He/she will focus on self reflection and how to correct their wrong doings. They will start getting organized and won’t pay much attention to what others think of them.

Both shame and guilt are painful emotions, but shame is considered more painful. When a person feels shame thus, begins the negative self talking. They will start to assume the worst about themselves. Shame is more powerful and painful than guilt, it can often result in self harm or self hatred. Whereas guilt is considered as a self evaluation about a specific incident that can turn a person around morally.

Morally speaking, both shame and guilt are not equal. One of them is more consistent and adaptive, guilt. Guilt works as a positive awakening for a person. It can help an individual be more adaptive in their relationships thus, assisting in many ways. People also take guilt as a source of motivation to make everything right and give it their best shot.

Guilt is considered as a strong emotion because it connects with a person’s morality and also it connects with a person’s social connection. It develops a sense of fair play. It is not necessary to feel guilt regarding your own situations but, we might feel guilty in someone else’s situation as well. When we see an unfair thing happening with someone but we choose to stay quiet then, we will feel guilty for not standing up for the right thing. Same goes for anger. When you see an unfair fight or you see someone suffering because of someone else, you will feel anger towards that situation.

Guilt and anger are both powerful emotions that help people connect socially. They also help a person understand the right moral ground. Both of these emotions tap on the human drive that will make you question the right and wrong during that situation. These emotions are good for humans socially and morally, if placed right.


Moral development works in stages and as an individual grows their sense of maturity also strengthens. It allows a person to distinguish between right and wrong, it also helps a person be more self reflective and adaptive. Moral development will make a person follow societal rules from the first stage of development. It will install a fear of punishment in an individual. This will make sure that a person follows the law and order.

The self conscious emotions like shame, pride, embarrassment, and guilt also plays a huge role in the moral development of an individual. This will make a person more adaptive thus, benefitting their relationships in the long run. Self conscious emotions also work as the source of motivation for some people so they can right all their wrong doings.