Steven W. Quackenbush, Ph.D.
Advisor: Dr. Mark Barnett
Recollection and evaluation of critical experiences in moral development: a cross-sectional examination
The central purpose of the present study was to examine age differences in the characteristics of experiences that adolescents and adults considered to have been critical in the development of their personal values. A sample of 380 residents of Manhattan, Kansas (ages 15 to 83) were asked to write an essay describing the single experience they regarded as having been the "most important" in their moral development. In addition, participants were asked to rate (a) the extent to which they learned a variety of lessons from their cited experience, and (b) the extent to which the recalled experience was perceived as "positive" and "negative" (both "at the time of the experience" and "looking back on it now").
Participants' written descriptions of their cited "most important" experiences were reliably classified into 19 categories. In general, younger participants (ages 15 to 22) were more likely than their older counterparts to cite experiences classified as "drinking/drug use or abuse". Older participants (ages 65 to 83) were more likely to cite experiences classified as "conversation with an authority figure (other than legal guardian)".
With respect to participants responses on the various "lessons learned" subscales, middle-aged and older adults (ages 36 to 83) were more likely to report learning a lesson concerning "social responsibility" than were their younger counterparts. This finding is consistent with the notion that adults become increasingly concerned with issues of "generativity" as they approach midlife. Age differences were also observed in lessons learned concerning "religion", "identity", "meaning", "trust", "mistrust", "justice", and "care". In addition, females were more likely to report learning lessons concerning "religion", "identity", "meaning", and "care" than were males.
With regard to the affective quality of the recalled experience, participants generally considered the experience they cited to have been more positive and less negative "looking back on it now" than "at the time of the experience". Also, adolescents and young adults (ages 15 to 35) reported that the episode they cited was more negative and less positive than did middle-aged and older adults (ages 36 to 83).
Ph.D., Psychology, Kansas State University, 1996