As part of a companion guide to Arnold Goldstein’s (1999) The PREPARE Series  (Revised Edition), this Moral Reasoning Training Manual provides updated advice and supplementary materials for facilitating the moral reasoning (or more generally, moral judgment) of behaviorally at-risk students.  “Moral judgment” encompasses moral reasoning as well as prescriptive social decisions or values (Gibbs, 2003).  Despite some of the adolescent population in the United States that exhibit aggressive behavior, people generally prefer to live in a world that is non-violent and caring (DiBiase, Gibbs, & Potter, 2005).  Yet there is more to mature moral judgment and behavior than espousing moral values and positive preferences.  We see daily examples of moral “speech” that does not match moral behavior.  Politicians, sports figures, actors, actresses, etc. verbally expose moral and ethical speech but often are conflicted with their behavior.  This contradiction has an influence on adolescents who are developing their own moral view of the world and their interactions with others.  “Having” moral values in the mature sense means not only affirming them but also understanding the deeper reasons for their importance, and the use of values in daily decision making.

Despite their generally favorable evaluations of moral values, many at-risk students and delinquents around the world are developmentally delayed in their moral judgment (see Gibbs, Basinger, Grime, & Snarey, in press).  We should be clear that egocentric bias is a part of adolescent development.  However, in healthy development we see in later adolescence maturation on a more empathetic view of the world.  Those individuals that experience developmental delay need assistance in clarification of values and the importance of empathy in the context of developing healthy and mature interpersonal relationships.  Moral developmental delay among antisocial youth is fully discussed in PREPARE, Aggression Replacement Training (Goldstein, Glick, & Gibbs, 1998), and other sources (see DiBiase et al., 2005; Gibbs, 2003, 2004); here we will recap the main ideas.

Persistence of Immature Stages

We conceptualize moral judgment development in terms of stages.  Adapting from Lawrence Kohlberg’s (1984) still-influential cognitive developmental stage model of moral judgment development, our (Gibbs, 2003) revisionist model breaks Kohlberg’s stages down into immature (Stages 1 and 2) and mature (Stages 3 and 4) levels.  In the immature or superficial and egocentric level,

  • Stage 1 (might makes right)


  • Stage 2 (tit-for-tat exchanges)

confuse morality with the physical or pragmatic (powerful people, physical punishments, impressive consequences, etc. at Stage 1; exchanging favors, exacting vengeance, not getting caught, etc. at Stage 2).

Immature or superficial morality normally tends to decline with cognitive and social development.  Through expanding spheres of social interaction, relationships, and perspective-taking, adolescents and adults typically “construct” or achieve a mature level of morality consisting of

  • Stage 3 (mutualities)


  • Stage 4 (social systems)

At this mature level, the Golden Rule is understood to have a more subtle or profound interpersonal meaning (“mutuality,” Stage 3) than simply doing to others if they do for you.  Also, respect for others and oneself is understood as the basis of society (“social systems,” Stage 4).  The mean moral judgment stage by adolescence is Stage 3 in many countries (Gibbs et al., in press).

The effective facilitation of Moral Reasoning assists with clarification of thinking errors and distortions that many developmentally delayed adolescents experience.  It also enhances the other PREPARE curricula and challenges “how” youth think about difficult situations and ultimately move towards the development of a more mature social perspective – taking within their interpersonal relationships.