Part 2: Brief Review of the Literature on Self-actualization and Moral Development
Self-actualization basically means living up to one’s potential. Although this research began with the view that “living up to one’s potential” means that persons have achieved intellectual and career success while also achieving inner satisfaction and emotional well-being, it became apparent that some achieve inner satisfaction and a sense of emotional well-being without achieving overt career or financial success. Some attain career, intellectual, or financial success but never find a sense of inner satisfaction and emotional well-being. Self-actualization is “high levels of responsibility, authenticity, reflective judgment, empathy for others, autonomy of thought and action, and self-awareness” (Nelson 1989, p. 8). Here, a distinction is made between two types:
1. Identity formation without going through a developmental crisis. “Successful” people – those who fulfill the role of good, law-abiding, and socially responsible members of their society – meet the traditional description of self-actualized individuals (Peck and Havighurst 1960; Piechowski 1989).
2. Those people who experience inner transformation after undergoing one or more developmental crises, “personal growth guided by powerful ideals . . . moral questioning, existential concerns . . . process by which a person finds an inner direction to his or her life and deliberately takes up the work of inner transformation” (Piechowski 1989, p. 89). They may or may not appear to be “successful” in a career or monetary sense.
Maslow (1970) emphasized the role of an individual’s own perceptions of the world and society. His theory focused on the emergence of self, the search for identity, and the individual’s relationships with others throughout life. “The highest and most evolved motive is self-actualization, a healthy desire to be the best one can be . . . [the most self-actualized] were intent upon doing things to make a better world, they volunteered, tutored, and gave of themselves without much concern for financial gain” (Hall and Hansen 1997, p. 24). The following is a listing of Maslow’s characteristics of self-actualizers (derived from Turner and Helms 1986):
1. More efficient perception of reality
2. Acceptance of self and others
4. Problem centering
7. Continued freshness of appreciation
8. The mystic experience
9. Gemeinschaftsgefuhl, (sympathy, compassion, identification with others)
10. Unique interpersonal relations
11. Democratic character structure
12. Discrimination between means and ends
13. Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor
15. Resistance to enculturation
An expansion on Erikson’s work pointed out that adolescents face four possible alternatives when solving the crisis of “who am I?” (Marcia, as cited in Woolfolk 1995; Scheidel and Marcia 1985):
The first is identity achievement. This means that after considering the realistic options, the individual has made choices and is pursuing them. It appears that few students achieve this status by the end of high school. Most are not firm in their choices for several more years; students who attend college may take a bit longer to decide (Archer 1982). Identity foreclosure describes the situation of adolescents who do not experiment with different identities or consider a range of options, but simply commit themselves to the goals, values, and lifestyles of others, usually their parents. Identity diffusion, on the other hand, occurs when individuals reach no conclusions about who they are or what they want to do with their lives; they have no firm direction. (p. 70)
Table 20.1 Erikson’s developmental crises (From Lefton, 1994)
1. Basic trust versus mistrust - Birth to 12–18 months - Feeding
The infant must form a first, loving relationship with the caregiver or develop a sense of mistrust.
2. Autonomy versus shame/doubt - 18 months to 3 years - Toilet training
The child’s energies are directed toward the development of physical skills, including walking, grasping, controlling the sphincter. The child learns control
but may develop doubt and shame if not handled well.
3. Initiative versus guilt - 3–6 years - Independence
The child continues to become more assertive and to take more initiative but may be too forceful, which can lead to guilt feelings.
4. Industry versus inferiority - 6–12 years - School
The child must deal with demands to learn new skills or risk a sense of inferiority, failure, and incompetence.
5. Identity versus role confusion - Adolescence - Peer relationships
The teenager must achieve identity in occupation, gender roles, politics, and religion.
6. Intimacy versus isolation - Young adulthood - Love relationships
The young adult must develop intimate relationships or suffer feelings of isolation.
7. Generativity versus stagnation - Middle adulthood - Parenting
Each adult must find some way to satisfy and support the next generation.
8. Ego integrity versus despair - Late adulthood - Reflection on and acceptance of one’s life
The culmination is a sense of acceptance of oneself as one is and a sense of fulfillment.
Some people reach an alternative, moratorium, a form of break from the task of deciding who one really is and what one ought to do.
Table 20.1 lists Erikson’s series of eight interdependent developmental crises that all individuals face. It provided a structure for evaluating what the subjects wrote in their author-designed Childhood and Adult Inventories. How each crisis is resolved has lasting effect on the person’s self-image and view of society.
Further investigative structure is provided by the inclusion of Dabrowski’s levels of emotional development. Although Dabrowski’s levels are arranged hierarchically as an emotional maturity progression, results indicate that low, medium, or high levels, per se, are not necessarily good or bad, better or worse. Dabrowski searched for the “authentically real, saturated with immutable values, those who represented ‘what ought to be’ against ‘what is”’ (Dabrowski, as cited in Piechowski 1975, p. 234). He believed that some individuals are born with a higher ability to transcend life’s difficulties and evolve into mature, wise, “evolved” human beings than other people. Some people, "... could not reconcile themselves to concrete reality; instead, they clung to their creative visions of what ought to be. They searched for “a reality of a higher level. And often they were able to find it unaided” (Dabrowski, in Piechowski, p. 236). These clients experienced intense inner conflict, self-criticism, anxiety, and feelings of inferiority toward their own ideals. . . Dabrowski saw these . . . symptoms as an inseparable part of the quest for higher level development. He fervently desired to convince the [medical] profession that inner conflict is a developmental rather than degenerative sign." (Silverman 1993, p. 11)
Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration proposed that advanced development requires a breakdown of existing psychological structures in order to form higher, more evolved structures (Silverman 1993, p. 11). In simpler terms, the house of cards that we build up during our youth to help us explain life no longer works for us. Some idea enters our consciousness and throws off all that we have believed. As we struggle with this new concept we can feel as though nothing makes sense anymore, and it can lead to a sense of helplessness or despair. That’s the disintegration part. The reason it is called positive is because it is actually a step toward maturity and a greater understanding of the world and our place in it. Dabrowski listed five fairly distinctive levels of emotional development. Table 20.2 describes characteristics and motivations of people at each level of emotional development. Theoretically, emotional growth beyond Level II is uncommon. Evidence exists that the advanced growth described by Dabrowski is probably not found in identity fore- closure or diffusion, is experienced only briefly in pre-mid-life identity achievement, and is probably present during a mid-life moratorium-type crisis. It is likely that few people experience their day-to-day lives in a fashion described by Dabrowski’s Levels III, IV, and V (Josselson 1991; Levinson 1978; Ruf 1998; Sheehy 1974).
“Dabrowski observed that the most gifted and creative individuals with whom he worked seemed to exhibit higher levels of empathy, sensitivity, moral responsibility, self-reflection, and autonomy of thought than the general population” (Nelson 1989, p. 5). Although the study results indicate that subjects exhibited a wide range of emotional maturity, almost all subjects in the study exhibited the majority of these qualities. One quality was more commonly exhibited by subjects in Dabrowski’s “advanced” levels of emotional maturity (See Table 20.2): autonomy of thought.
Until the late twentieth century, most considered moral reasoning a function of socialization rather than cognition. Many assumed “moral development was a matter of learning the norms of one’s culture, of accepting and internalizing them, and of behaving in conformity with them” (Rest and Narvaez 1994, p. 2). Kohlberg argued that conformity to social norms is sometimes morally wrong, as when dutiful soldiers commit atrocities. [embedding tables is beyond my technical skills, so the three columns appear as three lists].
Table 20.2 Moral and emotional development schemes
Kohlberg’s levels of moral development
Preconventional: (typically attainable between ages 7–11+)
Stage 1 – Fear of punishment
Stage 2 – Self- aggrandizement
Conventional: (typically attainable between ages 11 to adult)
Stage 3 – Desire for approval
Stage 4 – Maintains social order
Postconventional (ages 21+, not typically attained by most adults)
Stage 5 – Democratic values
Stage 6 – Universal ethics
Stage 7 – Cosmic consciousness
Rest's Information on the Defining Issues Test (DIT)
Approximate moral development levels by DIT P-scores
Low: Subjects who are described as fitting the study’s first levels of emotional development generally scored be- low 40 (the average score for American adults) on the DIT P-score. Table 20.5 details the stage scores attained by each subject on the DIT.
Medium: Scores between 40– 65 were found among subjects who fit the study’s description of conventional or stereotypi- cal normal adult development.
(57.67 is the average for the current study’s subjects).
High: Scores of approximately 65 (the average score for moral philosophy and political sci- ence students is 65.2) and higher coincided with the study subjects whose viewpoints, as found in case study writing, corresponded most with high scorers on the DIT, moral philosophers.
Theoretically, scores would close in on 100.
Dabrowski’s levels of emotional development
Level I: Self-interest, self- preservation (characterized by egocentrism, desire for material gains, goals of success, power, fame, competitive with others, external conflicts, little self- reflection, lack of empathy, rigid psychological structure.)
Level II: Stereotypical roles (highly influence by others, values introjected from parents, church, etc., relativistic, situational values, conflicted feelings, contradictory actions, desire for acceptance, feelings of inadequacy compared to others, lack of hierarchy of values.)
Level III: Personality transformation (inner conflict, hierarchy of values, positive maladjustments, inferiority toward one’s ideals, feelings of guilt and shame, in- dependent thinker, moral frame- work believed but inconsistently applied.)
Level IV: Self-actualization (conscious direction of development, commitment to one’s values, acceptance, objectivity, respon- sibility and service to others, philosophical, unhostile sense of humor.)
Level V: Attainment of the personality ideal (inner peace and harmony, altruism, universal compassion, devotion to service).
a. Norms from Rest and Narvaez 1994.
b. From Piechowski and Silverman 1993.
Kohlberg focused on cognition – “the thinking process and the representations by which people construct reality and meaning” (Rest and Narvaez 1994, p. 3). He developed a stage theory that included preconventional, conventional, and post- conventional thinking (See Table 20.2). Kohlberg’s interest was to uncover major markers in life-span development. He assumed any measurement device would be accurate if people scored higher as they matured.
In early results from his assessment instrument, more men reached high conventional levels than women, and his longitudinal study involved only men. Gilligan (1982) interpreted the findings as indicative of a primary difference between the reasoning of men and women. She argued that Kohlberg’s higher levels depicted a progressive separation of the individual from other people, and that women come from an ethic of care, move from a focus on self-interests to a commitment to specific individuals and relationships, and then to the highest level of morality based on the principles of responsibility and care for all people.
“The stages do not depict the progressive separation and isolation of individuals from each other (as Gilligan said), but rather how each individual can become interconnected with other individuals” (Rest and Narvaez 1994, p. 8). Over time, research with Kohlberg’s theory shows women as a group score slightly higher than men on Kohlberg’s Moral Judgment Interview (Colby and Kohlberg 1987; Narvaez 1993). They also score higher on Rest’s Defining Issues Test (Rest 1986), a machine-scorable inventory based on Kohlberg’s moral reasoning stages.
The Defining Issues Test (DIT) was completed by all subjects in the Ruf (1998) study. Its P-score, for “principled” thinking, emerged as an important indicator of potential for more abstract, complex emotional reasoning. Use of the terms emotional growth and maturity does not imply good or bad, but instead indicates a propensity or openness to change, particularly inner change. Table 20.2 places Kohlberg’s moral development stages alongside Dabrowski’s emotional development levels. As the data analysis evolved, DIT scores were placed between the two other theorists, Kohlberg and Dabrowski, because it became clear they were all related. Subjects did not fall as perfectly into the depicted DIT score ranges and Dabrowski levels as the three column Table 20.3 would suggest; however, there were always at least some characteristics of the associated Dabrowski level that lined up next to the DIT score range.
Tables 20.3 and 20.4 add perspective to the discussions of DIT scores in relation to emotional change potential. Table 20.3 details the study group results. Table 20.4 lists specific group averages for the DIT accumulated from previous studies. It is difficult to adequately define and describe the post-conventional levels of Kohlberg’s stages 5 and 6 because most people never attain that level of reasoning themselves. Research generally supports an assumption that the stages comprise a hierarchical structure where higher is better (Rest and Narvaez 1994; Rest et al. 1969; Walker et al. 1984). The tasks in these studies of the DIT involve asking subjects to paraphrase arguments from each of the stages. Subjects are always able to paraphrase levels lower but not above their own. Also, subjects can describe moral reasoning lower than their own level as immature, the way they once were, or simple-minded. The validity of a progressive stage theory is tested through a series of tasks with volunteers who were asked to “fake bad” and “fake good” on the MJI or DIT. Subjects are able to fake bad because they understand the thinking that they have outgrown. They were unable to fake good (McGeorge 1975).
Past research on the Defining Issues Test has indicated that adults with low scores—or scores that do not continue to climb with age – lack intellectual stimulation in their lives. The factor most consistently found to correlate with DIT scores is years of education (Rest 1979). Nonetheless, a study on high achieving eighth graders (Narvaez 1993), showed that high achievement scores were necessary but not sufficient for high scores on the DIT. None of the low achievement scores were related to high DIT P-scores, but only some of the high achievement scores were. In other words, high ability to achieve in school is necessary but not enough for high DIT scores. Narvaez compared the eighth grade scores to college scores collected from a previous study and found that the highest DIT scores came from the identified high achievers from the eighth grade group, although the college men had the highest score average, followed by female eighth graders, then female college, and finally eighth grade males. The selection of highly gifted, well-educated, middle-aged adults was purposeful for the Ruf study in that factors other than educational level might be more easily identified as contributors to moral reasoning growth.
Many agree that high giftedness manifests itself as a personality characteristic as much as it does a learning ability. Highly gifted people think more complexly, learn new material faster, and are generally more successful at training for and maintain- ing successful careers. Their high intelligence, however, does not make all gifted people more able than nongifted to solve their own emotional and social problems, as is amply borne out by analysis of this subject population. Furthermore, highly gifted people often experience considerable difficulty during their childhoods in finding compatible friendships and in developing a clear sense of who they are and how they fit in.
According to Rest (1986),
people who develop in moral judgment are those who love to learn, who seek new challenges, who enjoy intellectually stimulating environments, who are reflective ..., who take responsibility for themselves and their environs . . . they have an advantage in receiving encouragement to continue their education and their development . . . they profit from stimulating and challenging environments, and from social milieus that support their work, interest them, and reward their accomplishments . . . are more fulfilled in their career aspirations, . . . take more interest in the larger societal issues. This pattern is one of general social/cognitive development. (p. 57)
DIT Score statistics for Ruf Study Participants
Standard Deviation 13.78
Women’s results 6 scored below the mean 13 scored above the mean
Men’s results 13 scored below mean 6 scored above the mean
39 of 41 subjects had valid DIT P?scores (P = principled).
1 transgender male to female scored above the sample mean.
5 subjects scored below 40, the population average P?score for American adults (Rest and Narvaez 1994).
Table 20.3 Highly gifted study DIT summary (Derived from Ruf 1998)
Score statistics Women’s results Men’s results
Range Mean 30–83.3
57.67 6 scored below the mean 13 scored above the mean 13 scored below mean
6 scored above the mean
Standard Deviation 13.78
39 of 41 subjects had valid DIT P?scores (P = principled).
1 transgender male to female scored above the sample mean.
5 subjects scored below 40, the population average P?score for American adults (Rest and
Table 20.4 Norms for selected groups on the DIT P-scores (Derived from Rest and Narvaez 1994)
65.2 Moral philosophy and political science graduate students
59.8 Liberal Protestant seminarians
52.2 Law students
50.2 Medical students
49.1 Practicing physicians
47.6 Dental students
46.3 Staff nurses
42.8 Graduate students in business
40.2 College senior business and education majors
41.6 Navy enlisted men
40.0 Adults in general
31.8 Senior high school students
23.5 Prison inmates
21.9 Junior high school students
18.9 Institutionalized delinquents
The next installment of the chapter will cover: Data Analysis: Primary Sorting Categories and Terminology
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