The relation between empathic listening styles and moral reasoning development in adolescents
AbstractThe focus of this study was to investigate developmental changes in thinking about relationships and the listening attitudes of males and females from middle to late adolescence. Gilligan’s (1982) analysis of the distinctions between care and justice moral orientations was presented as a possible explanation for the development of a gender difference in listening behaviour. Thirty-two middle (15-16 year old) and 30 late (18-20 year old) adolescents were interviewed concerning a disagreement they had experienced with a friend. Two additional standard scenarios were also presented to students which involved a conﬂict between a parent and child. Responses were scored for care-based moral reasoning using Skoe’s (1993) Ethic of Care Interview (ECI) and for justice-based moral reasoning using Colby and Kohlberg’s (1987) Moral Judgement interview (M11). Further, measures of active listening where taken by assessing the number of people that students listened to over the last two weeks, how much they liked listening to others, and how important they thought listening to and understanding others was. It was proposed that care-based moral thought may be more relevant than justice-based moral thought to the development of the listener role. Furthermore, the relationship between listening and care orientation was predicted to be stronger for females than for males. Results conﬁrmed that females, on average, indicated listening to more people’s feelings and concerns, and scored signiﬁcantly higher in level of care moral development than their male counter-parts. No gender differences were found in level of justice moral development. As predicted, level of care scores correlated with listening behaviour more positively than did justice stage scores. That is, the higher the level of ECI moral reasoning, the greater the number of people that students reported listening to. However, when examined separately by gender, this relationship is only signiﬁcant for males. The ﬁndings lend support to the contention that care-based moral thought may be more intimately involved in the development of listening behaviour than justice-based thought. Further research should investigate differing perceptions of power within relationships and their effects on interpersonal sensitivity.