Contextual correlates of adolescents' moral decision-making

Kristin Leigh Orlovsky, Fordham University


The purpose of the study was to examine the impact of interpersonal and environmental variables affecting adolescents' domain judgments and moral decision-making regarding common school-based transgressions. Two hundred eighty-nine students in Grades 9–11 participated in this study. Participants provided severity ratings and domain justifications for eight common school-based transgressions perpetrated by a best friend or a casual acquaintance. Participants' demographic information and perceptions of their school culture were also measured. The results of the study demonstrated that the nature of adolescents' relationship with the transgressor influenced their moral domain judgments. Students judged transgressions perpetrated by an acquaintance as breaches of moral standards more so than transgressions perpetrated by a best friend. Transgressions judged to be moral issues were considered most severe, whereas those evaluated as personal issues were rated as least severe. In addition, adolescents' perceptions of their school culture influenced their judgments of transgression severity. Adolescents who perceived a positive school culture judged peers' transgressions as more severe than those who held negative perceptions of their school. In judging peer transgressions, adolescents' perceptions of their school culture also influenced their domain judgments. Differences in adolescents' evaluations and permissibility of school-based transgressions may be attributed to their informational assumptions of what constitutes right and wrong behaviors in the school setting. Finally, sex differences were found in students' use of moral, social-conventional and personal domain justifications. Overall, the results of this study offered insight into the contextual variables that influence adolescent moral decision-making. Study findings provide implications for the implementation of effective, educational programs directed at promoting safe, participatory, democratic school environments.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Orlovsky, Kristin Leigh, "Contextual correlates of adolescents' moral decision-making" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3461891.