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The development of children’s morality is independent of intelligence

Using intelligence tests and systematic interviews, DIPF researchers investigated 129 children aged between six and nine years to find out whether their intelligence affected the children’s moral development. No correlation could be found.

Highly intelligent children are often expected to behave more “decently” than their peers. Some studies have reported on a correlation between intelligence and moral judgements in adolescents and adults, and thus seemingly confirmed this stance. Can we, however, transfer this finding to the behaviour of younger children? No we can’t, is the outcome of a current study presented by the German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF). The researchers focused their assessment on children aged between six and nine years, drawing the following conclusion: “At elementary school age, we could not find any influence of intelligence on children’s moral development, i.e. their moral judgements and moral emotions“, says Hanna Beißert, the researcher responsible for the study at DIPF.

The team of researchers used a standardised intelligence test to ascertain the children’s intelligence. The moral developmental status was assessed by means of presenting picture stories to the children showing the main character transgressing a moral rule. Participants were subsequently questioned regarding this violation of a taboo. Beißert explains that the researchers aimed to apply a procedure that reflects daily life experiences. For instance, the stories dealt with topics like not sharing with a child in need, pinching sweets from a peer, hiding another child’s belongings, or picking on another child. In subsequent questions, children were asked to generally evaluate the acts (”Was this ok or not ok?”), reason about the moral rules and moral emotions connected to the story, and assess how they would feel if they had been acting in this way themselves.

The researchers applied the set of questions to all of the picture stories, deducing statistical values from the responses. Different statistical procedures were used to calculate the relation with intelligence (variance and regression analyses and rank correlations). No relation could be detected. According to Hanna Beißert, further studies are necessary involving different groups of participants, younger children and more measurement points to sustain the findings. Still, the educational researcher states the pedagogical impetus that “highly intelligent children need the same support in their moral development as their less intelligent peers”.

Hanna Beißert has published an openly accessible article describing the entire study, together with her co-author Professor Dr. Marcus Hasselhorn (also DIPF). The contribution to the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” is available online: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01961/full

Study: Hanna Beißert, DIPF, +49 (0)69 24708-239, YmVpc3NlcnRAZGlwZi5kZQ==
Press contact:
Philip Stirm, DIPF, +49 (0)69 24708-123, c3Rpcm1AZGlwZi5kZQ==, www.dipf.de/en

The German Institute for International Educational Research (DIPF) delivers empirical educational research, digital infrastructure and targeted knowledge transfer, thus contributing to coping with challenges in education. Knowledge for education is processed and documented by the Leibniz Institute to support science, politics and practice in education – to the benefit of society.

last modified May 08, 2017