British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 36 Issue 4 (November 2018), Pages i-iv, 521-678

The moral self and moral identity: Developmental questions and conceptual challenges (pages 652-666)

Research into moral identity has provided much support for its role in mature moral functioning, yet the developmental course of this construct remains poorly understood. In this review, we examine the dominant developmental model of moral identity, which emphasizes its key relation with the moral self of early childhood. In reviewing evidence for the model, the assumption of correspondence between the moral self of early childhood and moral identity in adolescence is challenged, in terms of both the moral component and the sense‐of‐self entailed in both constructs. We argue that progress in mapping the developmental course of moral identity stands to be informed by a focus on middle childhood, which to date has been largely neglected in this literature, despite evidence implicating this period from related fields of inquiry. A number of specific directions for future developmental research into moral identity are outlined based on this perspective.

What is already known on this subject?

  • Moral identity is central to adolescent moral functioning.
  • Early childhood ‘moral self’ becomes adolescent moral identity.

What does this study add?

  • The current dominant developmental model is examined.
  • The model is found to have questionable validity.
  • Middle childhood may be of unique importance to the emergence of moral identity.

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