ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (8): 1192-1207.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01202

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Association between Moral Reasoning and Moral Behavior: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

WU Peng;LIU Huashan   

  1. (1 Faculty of Education, Hubei University, Wuhan 430062, China) (2 School of Psychology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China) (3 Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior, Ministry of Education, Wuhan 430079, China)
  • Received:2013-07-15 Published:2014-08-25 Online:2014-08-25
  • Contact: LIU Huashan


According to the theory of Piaget and Kohlberg, whose focuses were the role of moral reasoning in morality, some researchers are inclined to identify moral reasoning as a key factor in predicting moral behavior, moral judgment or moral decision. Over the past decade, some moral psychologists put forward that cognitive factors played a trivial role in morality, while non-cognitive and unconscious factors having great impacts on morality. The controversy of whether moral reasoning can affect moral behavior remained in both theoretical researches and empirical studies. A systematic review was conducted to synthesize empirical results about relationship between moral reasoning and ethical behavior or immoral behavior. Through literature retrieval and selection, in terms of the criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis, 83 independent effect sizes (50 studies, 16738 participants) were pick out as meta-analysis unit. After coding of data, independent effect sizes were analyzed by CMA 2.2 program. There are four analyses in this research, including heterogeneity test, publication bias test, main effect analysis and moderation effect analysis. In addition, in terms of tentative review analysis and research hypotheses, random effects model was used as meta-analysis model. The test for heterogeneity illustrated that there was significant heterogeneity in 83 independent effect sizes, and also random effects model was a appropriate model for subsequent meta-analysis. The publication bias test indicated that the impact of publication bias was modest but the major finding remained still valid. The research revealed that a positive association between moral reasoning and ethical behavior was found out (r = 0.238) and contrarily a negative relationship between moral reasoning and immoral behavior (r = ?0.188) was disclosed. The moderator analysis revealed that the standardization of moral reasoning measurements affected the relationship between moral reasoning and moral behavior, and additionally participant’s age could affect the relationship between moral reasoning and immoral behavior. Specifically, there was a stronger link between moral reasoning and ethical behavior in the process of using standardized instrument, while there being a weaker link between moral reasoning and immoral behavior. Meanwhile, the association between adult moral reasoning and immoral behavior was weaker than adolescent’ or children’ association. The results suggested that moral reasoning could play an important role in moral behavior (ethical behavior and immoral behavior). Researchers, what’s more, are expected to pay much attention to measurement instruments of moral reasoning and standardized instruments in the research of moralities, and especially, the area of ethical behavior. Overall, the findings provided an evidence to prove moral reasoning being the key factor of morality and suggested that developing moral reasoning measurement in connection with immoral behavior is in urgent need.

Key words: moral reasoning, ethical behavior, immoral behavior, meta-analysis