In: Developmental Psychology (1998), 34(4), 731-741
Reasoning About Responsibilities and Obligations in Close Relationships: A Comparison Across Two Cultures Monika Keller, Wolfgang Edelstein, and Christine Schmid Max-Planck-Institute for Human Development
Fu-xi Fang and Ge Fang Chinese Academy of Sciences
The study compares sociomoral reasoning of children and adolescents in Iceland, longitudinally assessed at ages 7, 9, 12, and 15 years (N = 97) and in China, cross-sectionally assessed at corresponding ages (N = 350). Participants reasoned about choices, motives, and moral justifications of a protagonist in a sociomoral dilemma. This dilemma allows persons to focus on different concerns (e.g., promise keeping and close friendship vs. self-interest or altruism toward a 3rd person). Overall, Icelandic participants referred more often to self-interest and contractual concerns, whereas Chinese participants focused on altruistic and relationship concerns. However, some cultural differences remained stable over time, whereas others decreased. In adolescence, close friendship became an equally important value for adolescents in both cultures. The results indicate a complex interaction of culture and development in sociomoral reasoning.
Monika Keller, Wolfgang Edelstein, and Christine Schmid, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany; Fu-xi Fang and Ge Fang, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, People’s Republic of China. We benefited from the cooperation program between the Max Planck Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. We wish to thank all those who have been involved in this research project. The research is part of Project Child Development and Social Structure carried out by the Center for Development and Socialization at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin. We wish to thank Susann Kolbe and Peter Schuster for their help in scoring the data and Kurt Kreppner for statistical advice. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Monika Keller, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, D-14195 Berlin, Germany. Electronic mail may be sent to [email protected]
The research reported in this article explores the development of social and moral reasoning in two very different cultural contexts: a “modern” European society (Iceland) and a “traditional” Asian society (mainland China). Previous cross-cultural studies have yielded mixed results regarding similarities or differences in sociomoral reasoning across different cultures. Although research in the cognitive-structural tradition supports the assumption of a universal developmental sequence of moral reasoning across Eastern and Western cultures (Snarey, 1985), social psychological or anthropological studies have revealed marked differences in reasoning about moral issues between these cultures (Turiel, in press). In both traditions, the focus has been more on adolescents and adults than on children and more on moral norms in hierarchically structured relationships than on responsibilities in close relationships of equality, such as friendship. The present research analyzes developmental changes from childhood to adolescence in reasoning about choices, motives, and moral judgments of a protagonist in a moral conflict in close friendship. Theoretically, this research connects the domain of morality with the social cognitive domain of relationships, or the prescriptive-moral to the descriptive-social understanding. The theoretical background of this research is briefly outlined in the following sections in both a cultural and a cross-cultural perspective.
In moral development research, there has been considerable controversy concerning the principle of justice or fairness and the principle of solidarity or care. The principle of fairness defines negative moral duties, such as the obligation of promise keeping, whereas the principle of care or solidarity defines positive moral duties of concern for the welfare of others. Philosophically, it has been argued that both principles represent necessary components of morality (Frankena, 1973; Habermas, 1983). Negative moral duties have been defined as strictly obligatory, whereas positive duties have been taken to vary in their obligatoriness (i.e., depending on the nature of the relationship; Blum, 1980). Psychologically, persons vary in how salient different moral concerns are for them and how much they take these concerns into account in their actions when they conflict with pragmatic or hedonistic interests of the self (Nisan, 1984; Rest, 1983; Smetana, Killen, & Turiel, 1991). Developmentally, self-oriented, hedonistic reasoning decreases, and reasoning oriented toward the concerns of others and generalized principles increases (Eisenberg, Boehnke, Silbereisen, & Schuler, 1985). Gilligan (1982) has postulated a gender-specific sensitivity to the moral principles of fairness and care. Although this assumption has been criticized (see Walker, 1991, for an overview), the two moral principles have recently aroused interest in a cross-cultural context. Cross-cultural research on moral development in the Kohlbergian tradition (Boyes & Walker, 1988; Eckensberger & Zimba, 1997; Snarey, 1985) revealed that participants from Eastern cultures, when offering moral arguments, tended to refer to concepts of interpersonal harmony, concern for the welfare of others, mutual benevolence, and love. In Kohlberg’s (1984) theory, these concerns could not be taken into account adequately because of the exclusive definition of morality in terms of justice and the neglect of issues of care. Miller and Bersoff (1995) showed that participants from India compared with American participants were more oriented toward issues of care and gave priority to interpersonal responsibilities. In contrast, participants from the United States were more concerned with moral rules and issues of justice and gave priority to formal moral obligations. However, American participants judged helping friends as more obligatory than helping strangers, whereas Indian participants made no difference between these obligations (Miller, Bersoff, & Harwood, 1990). Miller et al. suggested that these cultural differences arise from two different codes in which the Indian participants give priority to social duties, whereas the Americans give priority to individual rights and personal choice. Another question concerns the priority of moral concerns in persons’ actual decision making, and whether persons’ actions are consistent with their moral judgments. Developmental research in Western cultures shows that self-interest may be the predominant criterion in action choices even when a person is aware of fairness rules (Gerson & Damon, 1978; Keller & Edelstein, 1993). The experience of necessity to act on one’s moral knowledge and to establish consistency between moral judgment and an action choice seems to depend on the stage of moral development (Blasi, 1983; Keller & Edelstein, 1993; Kohlberg & Candee, 1984). However, no cross-cultural literature is available on moral consistency or inconsistency. Given the fact that benevolence and concern for the well-being of others are strongly emphasized moral values in the Confucian tradition (Bond, 1996; Roetz, 1992), these authors speculate that moral inconsistency in cases of conflict between self-interests and interpersonal and moral obligations may occur more often in children from Western societies than in children from China. The understanding of responsibilities in close relationships has not motivated much research, although a number of researchers have emphasized the connection between morality and close relationships, particularly friendship, both philosophically (Blum, 1980) and psychologically (Bukowski & Sippola, 1996; Keller, 1984; Keller & Edelstein, 1990). In contrast to the parent-child relationship as a relationship of asymmetrical power, friendship represents a relationship between equals. This symmetrical structure allows the negotiation of the meaning of obligations and responsibilities and thus is taken to foster the development of moral autonomy (Krappmann, 1996; Piaget, 1965). Emotionally, through the close affective ties in friendship, the person experiences mutuality and caring and thus becomes aware of responsibilities in relationships. Adolescence is seen as a particularly important period, in which trust and loyalty become central moral concerns in friendship relations (Berndt, 1992; Keller & Edelstein, 1993; Hartup, 1993; Sullivan, 1953). Various researchers have even argued that morality emerges earlier in peer contexts than in authority contexts (Rest, 1983; Youniss & Damon, 1992). Rather little is known about whether the meaning of friendship is the same across cultures (Krappmann, 1996). On the one hand, Keller and Wood (1989), in a longitudinal study of Icelandic participants from childhood into adolescence, supported Selman’s (1980) findings of a developmental sequence of friendship understanding. On the other hand, Berndt (1992) speculated that the pattern of intimate friendship that is so characteristic for Western
societies may be less characteristic of Chinese society because of the strength of family ties and an emphasis on peer relations rather than on intimate friendship. Although some research shows that Chinese incorporate group structure as part of their self-definition and that they have a strong social orientation (Bond, 1996), it is an open question whether close friendship has the same developmental significance for Chinese adolescents, as is the case for adolescents in Western cultures. The research presented here examines the questions raised above. It is an outgrowth of a series of studies focusing on the development of sociomoral reasoning longitudinally from childhood to adolescence in Iceland (see Edelstein, Keller, & Schröder, 1990). In these studies, participants reasoned about the meaning of moral norms (e.g., promise keeping) and close relationships (e.g., friendship and parent-child relationship) in general as well as in the context of a morally relevant hypothetical dilemma in a friendship and in a parent-child relationship. The findings supported the assumption of a sequence of developmental levels in the different contexts or issues of sociomoral understanding (Keller, 1996; Keller & Edelstein, 1991; Keller & Reuss, 1984; Keller & Wood, 1989). The developmental levels represent increasingly more complex forms of a lay theory of action, including the concepts of self and others, their relationships, and the norms governing these relationships (Keller & Edelstein, 1990). These developmental sequences have been validated in cross-cultural research in mainland China (Keller et al., 1998) as well as in a number of Western societies (Keller, Edelstein, Brink, & Rosenfeld, 1992), including Germany (West and former East), the United States, and Russia. The research presented below focuses on reasoning about the moral conflict in the friendship dilemma and analyzes the content of sociomoral reasoning in detail. In the dilemma (adapted from Selman, 1980; Keller, 1984; see Method section for a detailed description), a protagonist has to choose between keeping a promise to the best friend and accepting an interesting invitation from another child who is new in class. In the course of a comprehensive interview about the conflict from the perspectives of the different persons involved, participants were asked to make two different decisions, (a) a practical choice (i.e., What will the protagonist do?) and (b) a moral choice (i.e., What is the right choice in this situation?) and to give reasons for the practical and the moral choice. The practical choice involves a psychological attribution about how a child will behave in this situation. The moral choice, however, involves the participant‘s moral evaluation of this psychological attribution. In the interview, participants were free to select which aspects of the conflict to focus on. Thus, when reasoning about the two options (to meet the friend or the new child) in terms of a prediction of choice and a moral point of view, participants could focus on hedonistic concerns (e.g., the interesting offers made by the friend or the new child), the moral obligation (e.g., the promise given), or interpersonal responsibilities (e.g., the long-term friendship, the needs and feelings of the close friend or of the third child). In the study presented here, we were interested in the priorities that individuals at different ages from the two cultures gave to these different concerns when reasoning about action choices and moral judgments. Given the different value orientations in the two cultures, we expected marked cross-cultural differences. From a developmental point of view, however, we also expected similarities resulting from an increasing understanding of the interpersonal and moral meaning of the conflict. More specifically, we expect that with the increasing importance of close friendship in adolescence, participants would, over time, grant priority to close friendship compared with other concerns. Thus, we expected that over time, the Icelandic participants would more frequently predict that the protagonist opts for the friend than for the new child and would also judge doing so to be morally right. Because of the emphasis on altruism and on peer relationships in Chinese society, it is an open question whether this trend is equally strong in the Chinese participants. We further expected that younger participants would use hedonistic reasoning more frequently than would older participants. We assumed, however, that this type of reason is more frequently used in the context of practical choice because already, younger children may know that hedonistic reasons are not legitimate as moral justifications. In line with the moral development literature, we further expected that duty and responsibility concerns would become increasingly salient in the course of development. The strong orientation toward interpersonal harmony and group welfare in Chinese society led us to expect that the Chinese participants would give more thought to the claims of the new child than would the Icelandic participants. We therefore assumed that they would use altruistic reasons more frequently and hedonistic reasons less frequently than would the Icelandic participants. Regarding consistency between practical choice and moral judgment, we expect that inconsistency may be more pronounced in the Icelandic participants, especially at younger ages, where a lag between moral knowledge and moral
motivation may prevail. It is not clear whether such a split between practical and moral choice would occur in the Chinese participants. The differences in care and justice orientations between Western and Asian cultures raise the question of whether the Chinese participants would be more concerned with the interpersonal responsibilities toward the friend, whereas the Icelandic participants may have been more preoccupied with the fairness and contractual concerns relating to the norm of promise keeping.
Method Sample The Icelandic (Reykjavik) sample includes 97 participants from a longitudinal study for whom complete data sets were available at the ages 7, 9, 12, and 15 years. Participants were about equally distributed according to social class and gender (see Edelstein, Keller, & Schröder, 1990, for a detailed description). The Chinese (Beijing) participants were assessed cross-sectionally, 80 participants at age 7 years and 90 participants at each of the ages 9, 12, and 15 years. Participants were about equally distributed according to gender and social class represented in three different school settings serving different intake groups (workers, employees, and “the elites”, mainly government-employed academics).
Procedure Sociomoral reasoning was assessed through individually administered interviews. The Icelandic interviewers were experienced teachers who mostly participated in all data collection waves. The Chinese interviewers were researchers and graduate students. Interviewers were intensively trained in the method of clinical-developmental interviewing. The interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed in Icelandic or Chinese, and translated in English by bilingual or experienced native language translators. The meaning of relevant concepts was discussed intensively in the ongoing cooperation of the researchers. Participants were presented with an interpersonal-moral conflict about three children of their own gender (Keller, 1984; Selman, 1980). The cultural validity of the dilemma was established in pretests that were run to establish equivalent meanings of the situation. The conflict was modified slightly for the different age groups to account for different interests and to make what is offered to the protagonist equally compelling. In the story, two children are close friends and have known each other for a long time. A third child is new in class and does not yet have any friends there. When the friends talk about the new child, the protagonist pleads for understanding the new child’s situation, but the friend does not like him or her. The protagonist promises the best friend to meet him or her as usual on their special meeting day. The friend mentions some new toys and records but specifically wants to talk about an important problem. Later that day, the protagonist receives a phone call from the new child, who invites him or her to an interesting movie and pop concert at the very time of his or her meeting with the best friend, to be followed by coke and hot dogs at his or her house afterward. The issues in the story were explored in detail with the following questions, which could be reworded somewhat by the interviewers to secure adequate understanding by the participant: 1. Practical choice (attribution of choice): What will the protagonist do or how does the protagonist decide in this situation? 2. Reasons for choice and alternative (friend or new child): Why does the protagonist decide this way? Would the protagonist [or somebody else] also like to do [the alternative option]? Why? 3. Moral judgment: Is this [i.e., protagonist‘s decision] the right choice in this situation or what is the right choice? 4. Moral reasons: Why is this the right choice?
Moral reasons were assessed for only the participant‘s own choice of what was right. If, however, the participant spontaneously mentioned reasons for both options (e.g., it is right to go to the friend because of the promise, but it is also [somewhat] right to go to the new child because he or she is alone), moral reasons for the alternative were scored as well. Unfortunately, the 7-year-old Icelandic participants were not asked for their moral judgment when their practical choice was the new child. In the early phases of the research, Icelandic experts had warned that it might be unethical to probe the participants‘ reasons for a putatively hedonistic choice, as this might produce guilt feelings. In later testing periods and with greater experience, these reservations were shown to be unnecessary. In addition, 30 seven-year-olds were interviewed additionally to supply the missing information. Also, to control for practice effects of iterative longitudinal exposure to the dilemma interview, additional cross-sectional samples were interviewed (n = 20 for each age group). No practice effects were found in any of the developmental analyses.
Scoring The following scores were derived: 1. Participants’ choices were scored for their direction (i.e., new child or friend). Because of the low frequency of occurrence, participants with ambivalent practical or moral choices were excluded from further analyses. 2. Content categories were defined for the practical and moral reasons offered in support of the options of new child or friend. The 10 categories include hedonistic reasons (interest for objects or for relationship), interpersonal reasons (altruism/empathy, quality of relationship), moral reasons (obligation of promise), mixed interpersonal-moral reasons (obligation of friendship), consequences (for actor, for friend, or for relationship), and unscoreable reasons (other). The Appendix provides descriptions and scoring examples for all content categories. Most categories refer to both options. However, some categories are more descriptive of the option friend (e.g., promise and quality of the relationship). If, however, the situation was reinterpreted by the participants (i.e., a promise has also been given to the new child and the new child is also a friend), these categories are scored in connection with the option for the new child. Percentage agreement of several pairs of raters was above 90% for all categories in the different age groups for the different cultures. The following four content categories represent prototypical reasons in terms of egoistic concerns and moral duties or relationship responsibilities. When justifying the option of new child, the two categories of object interest and altruism/empathy indicate hedonistic interests or relationship concerns, respectively. In reasoning about the option friend, quality of friendship and promise indicate relationship or normative concerns. Only these four categories were included in the statistical analyses. The different subcategories of consequences were combined. Two further categories were used very frequently but were not included in the statistical analyses because they contain more than one aspect. The category relationship interest includes both hedonistic and relationship concerns, the category friendship obligation contains both normative and relationship concerns (see Table 1 for overview).
Table 1 Percentage Use of Content Categories in Iceland and China Age (years) 7 Context and content category
Option new child Practical reasonin Object interest Relationship interest Friendship quality Friendship obligation Promise Altruism/Empathy Consequences Total no. respondents Moral reasoning
89 30 7 1 1 10 2 87
37 16 24 0 2 31 3 67
72 32 5 3 14 23 18 96
43 16 13 0 0 59 4 82
87 59 14 1 9 20 16 94
37 32 23 0 0 55 11 75
73 73 9 3 12 16 19 93
46 30 46 7 1 30 8 78
Object interest Relationship interest Friendship quality Friendship obligation Promise Altruism/Empathy Consequences Total no. respondents
— — — — — — —
29 20 18 0 2 53 16 45
6 23 3 0 14 40 31 35
21 38 10 0 0 52 21 48
35 25 0 2 18 23 26 57
25 13 17 0 2 69 15 48
38 13 5 0 15 8 15 60
16 16 5 0 0 79 21 19
Option friend Practical reasoning Object interest Relationship interest Friendship quality Friendship obligation Promise obligation Altruism/Empathy Consequences Total no. respondents Moral reasoning Object interest Relationship interest Friendship quality Friendship obligation Promise Altruism/Empathy Consequences Total no. respondents
46 27 29 6 37 6 28 68 0
9 10 74 1 16 1 7 69 6
2 31 37 21 56 5 43 95 2
0 9 75 7 9 18 4 68 2
25 18 46 14 56 30 46 95 4
2 1 73 8 34 18 16 83 3
9 14 66 21 64 46 40 96 5
2 7 69 23 51 27 20 89 1
0 7 0 60 7 13 15
8 50 3 22 8 8 36
7 19 16 65 6 27 86
51 0 11 18 16 18 45
13 26 17 73 8 19 85
56 0 6 44 9 20 64
7 54 36 72 27 34 92
3 49 21 55 22 17 77
Note. Because of multiple responses, total percentage can exceed 100%.
Statistical Analyses A set of log-linear analyses was computed with log-linear model procedures (Green, 1988). First, the automatic model search of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS-X) hilog-linear procedure was run to find the most parsimonious model. Second, this model was tested within the SPSS-X log-linear procedure, which estimates parameters (z values) on the basis of the final model. The first model examines whether participants‘ choices (new child or friend) depend on context (practical or moral), culture (Iceland or China) and age (9, 12, and 15 years). The 7-yearold participants were excluded from the analysis because of missing data in the moral context. The second set of models examines whether the use of a content category (use or no use of object interest, altruism/empathy, and friendship quality or promise) depends on context (practical or moral), culture (Iceland or China), and age (7, 9, 12, and 15 years: option friend; and 9, 12, and 15 years: option new child). Additional models were computed to test the effects of gender.
Results Table 2 presents the significant effects (partial chi-squares) and corresponding parameters (z values) for all loglinear analyses. Only main and interaction effects that include the variables of choice or of content category are reported here. Other effects are of no interest because they represent marginal frequencies of an unbalanced design rather than substantive results. It may be helpful to consult the figures when reading the Results section. For reasons of comparability, the figures represent the four-way interactions, independent of statistical significance. For parameter estimations, the following reference categories were set: choice, friend; content category, no use; culture, China; context, moral; and age, 15 years. Age groups (9 and 12 years or 7, 9, and 12 years, respectively) were successively tested against age 15 years.
Table 2 Results of Log-linear Analyses Partial χ2
1 1 1 2
116.52 77.81 23.81 94.87
.00 .00 .00 .00
–11.04 –8.86 5.19 9.00 6.34 3.94
1 1 1 2
57.29 98.40 16.71 9.08
.00 .00 .00 .01
1 1 1 2
65.96 85.08 4.93 15.24
.00 .00 .03 .00
1 1 3
66.81 39.64 25.09
.00 .00 .00
1 1 3
92.03 13.60 54.68
.00 .00 .00
Effect and interaction Choice Choice Choice x Culture Choice x Context Choice x Age Choice x Culture x Context Object interest Category x Culture Category x Context Category x Culture x Context Category x Culture x Age Category x Culture x Context x Age Altruism/empathy Category Category x Culture Category x Context Category x Age Category x Culture x Context x Age Friendship quality Category x Culture Category x Context Category x Age
Category x Culture x Age
Promise Category x Context Category x Age
Category x Culture x Age
4.02 8.44 3.66 –2.07 ns 2.21 1.96 –5.49 –8.51 –2.27 2.40 1.98 –3.83 –2.37 –8.70 6.42 –4.04 –3.51 –2.41 –4.91 –4.70 –3.82 9.27 –3.59 –6.23 –6.00 –2.29 ns 4.40 ns
Note. Only significant main and interaction effects including the factor’s choice or content category are reported. For parameter estimation, the choice “friend”, content category “no use”, culture “China”, context “moral” and age “15 years” were set as reference categories. Age groups (9 and 12 years or 7, 9, and 12 years, respectively) were successively tested against age 15 years. Note that the number of z values corresponds to the degrees of freedom of the tested effect. z values with absolute values greater 1.96 are significant (p < .05).
Practical and Moral Choices This hilog-linear procedure revealed a final model, consisting of the three-way interaction of Choice x Culture x 2 Context and the two-way interaction of Choice x Age, χ 10, N = 1.089) = 11.21, p = .34) (see Figure 1 and Table 2). In addition, the interactions of Choice x Culture and Choice x Context as well as the main effect of choice were significant. Overall, the option of new child was chosen less often than the option of friend (–11.04). Further, the
option of new child was chosen less often by Icelandic than by Chinese participants (–8.86), more often in the practical than in the moral context (5.19), and more often at ages 9 and 12 years than at age 15 years (9.00 and 6.34). Finally, the option of new child was chosen by Icelandic participants more often in practical than in moral contexts compared with Chinese participants‘ practical and moral choices (3.94). Thus, the three-way interaction of choice, culture, and context reflects a context difference in choices, which occurred among Icelandic but not among Chinese participants. The inclusion of gender as an additional variable (the model is not represented in the table) revealed an additional interaction of Choice x Gender. In both cultures and across all age groups and contexts, girls opted more frequently for the friend (3.00).
Choice new child/friend 100
Frequencies in %
40 20 0
-20 -40 -60 -80 friend -100
Iceland practical choice
China practical choice
Iceland moral choice
China moral choice
Figure 1. Choices new child/friend by context, culture, and age. No data were available for moral choices in Icelandic participants at age 7 years; therefore, 7-year-old participants were excluded from statistical analyses.
An additional log-linear analysis was performed in order to test culture and age effects on individual patterns of consistency (vs. inconsistency) in practical and moral choices. The results evidence a significant three-way interaction of Consistency x Culture x Age. An increase in consistency occurred only the Icelandic participants between ages 9 and 15 years (–3.12), whereas the Chinese participants showed rather high consistency across all age groups (at ages 9, 12, and 15 years, respectively. Icelandic participants: 60%, 86%, and 94%; Chinese participants: 87%, 75%, and 89%).
Reasoning for the Option of New Child Object interest. The hilog-linear-procedure did not reveal a more parsimonious model than the saturated one (see Figure 2 and Table 2). The four-way interaction of Category x Culture x Context x Age, the three-way interactions of Category x Culture x Context and of Category x Culture x Age, and the two-way interactions of Category x Culture and Category x Context were statistically significant. Overall, object interest was used more often by Icelandic than by Chinese participants (4.02), and, in both cultures, more often in practical than in moral reasoning (8.44). Icelandic participants showed a greater difference between practical and moral reasoning than did the Chinese participants (3.66; i.e., they referred to object interest more often in practical than in moral reasoning). Icelandic participants referred to object interest increasingly more often between ages 9 and 15 years, whereas for the Chinese participants, the frequencies remained rather stable across time (–2.07). Furthermore, the greater difference between practical and moral context observed in the Icelandic participants decreased with age, whereas that of the Chinese participants remained rather stable (2.21 and 1.96). No effects of gender emerged.
Frequencies in %
100 80 60 40 20 0
Frequencies in %
100 80 60 40 20 0
9 years Age
Iceland practical reasoning
China practical reasoning
Iceland moral reasoning
China moral reasoning
Figure 2. Use of two content categories, object interest and altruism/empathy, in reasoning for the option new child by context, culture, and age. No data were available for moral reasoning in Icelandic participants at age 7 years; therefore, 7-year-old participants were excluded from statistical analyses.
Altruism/empathy. Again, the saturated model was the final model. The four-way interaction of Category x Culture x Context x Age, the two-way interactions of Category x Culture, Category x Context; and Category x Age, and the main effect of category were significant. The significant main effect of category (–5.49) indicates that, overall,
altruism/empathy was not a frequently used category. It was used less often by Icelandic compared with Chinese participants (–8.51), less often in practical than in moral reasoning (–2.27), but more often by 9- and 12-year-olds than by 15-year-olds (2.40 and 1.98). In addition, the significant four-way interaction indicates culture-specific context differences that changed across age groups (–3.83 and –2.37): Icelandic participants used altruism/empathy more often in moral than in practical reasoning, and in both contexts, less often at age 15 years than in the younger age groups. In contradistinction, Chinese participants revealed an increasing difference between the contexts of practical and moral reasoning in the use of altruism/empathy (i.e., they used the category increasingly more often with age in the moral context and decreasingly less often in the practical context). No gender effects emerged.
Reasoning for the Option of Friend Friendship quality. The final model consists of the three-way interaction of Category x Culture x Age and the two2 way interaction of Category x Context, χ (7, N = 1, 163) = 3.19, p = .87 (see Figure 3 and Table 2). In addition, the interactions of Category x Culture and Category x Age were significant. Friendship quality was used less often by Icelandic than by Chinese participants (–8.70), more often in practical than in moral reasoning (6.42), and increasingly more often with age (–4.04, –3.51, and –2.41). The significant three-way interaction of Category x Culture x Age indicates cultural differences across the age groups: Icelandic participants used friendship quality increasingly more often in older age groups, whereas Chinese participants did not change across the four age groups (–4.91, –4.70, and – 3.82). The analyses including gender revealed an additional significant interaction of Category x Age x Sex, but neither the z values for the three-way interaction nor that for the two-way-interaction of Category x Sex reached significance.
Frequencies in %
100 80 60 40 20 0
Frequencies in %
100 80 60 40 20 0
9 years Age
Iceland practical reasoning
China practical reasoning
Iceland moral reasoning
China moral reasoning
Figure 3. Use of two content categories, friendship quality and promise, in reasoning for the option friend by context, culture, and age.
Promise. The final model consists of the three-way interaction of Category x Culture x Age and the two-way 2 interaction of Category x Context, χ (7, N = 1,163) = 3.01, p = .88. In addition, the two-way interactions of Category x Culture and Category x Age were significant. Promise was used more often by Icelandic than by Chinese participants (9.27), less often in practical than in moral reasoning (–3.59), and increasingly more often with age (–6.23, –6.00, and –2.29). The significant three-way interaction of Category x Culture x Age indicates culture-specific age effects: In the Icelandic participants, the use of promise remained rather stable across the four age groups. In contradistinction, Chinese participants referred to promise increasingly more often between the ages of 9 and 15 years (4.40). The additional analyses revealed a significant interaction of Category x Age x Gender (–2.46 and –2.76). Although overall, promise was used equally often by male and female participants, male participants started with lower frequencies of promise at age 7 years (7% vs. 12%) but ended with higher frequencies at age 15 years (43% vs. 33%).
Discussion In this study, we explored similarities and differences in sociomoral reasoning in samples from China and Iceland across four measurement occasions (age groups) from childhood to adolescence. The comparison involves a crosssectional sample (China) and a longitudinal sample (Iceland). To control for possible practice effects in the longitudinal sample, additional cross-sectional studies were undertaken at each measurement point involving 20 Icelandic participants at each age. The analyses revealed no differences between the two samples. Preliminary analyses also support the assumption that cultural effects are stronger than any subcultural variation. With one exception, the results of cultural differences are independent of gender. In general, the results support the assumption of universal developmental significance of close friendship in adolescence as a characteristic of both Western and Asian cultures. By the age of 15 years, the majority of the participants from both cultures opted for the close friend and also judged it to be morally right to do so. Overall, girls gave even more priority to the close friendship in their choices than did boys. This is the only main effect of gender that is found in both cultures. In general, however, participants in both samples evidenced a similar developmental trend leading to a marked preference for the friend in participant‘s attribution of choices. The developmental change in practical choice occurred later among Chinese than among Icelandic participants, but was observed in their moral evaluation as well. In contradistinction, about 90% of the Icelandic participants judged the option of friend to be morally right across all measurement occasions. The comparison of practical and moral choices reveals an interesting finding about inconsistency or consistency between the attribution of choice and the moral evaluation of this choice. Whereas the Chinese participants established consistency between practical and moral judgment at all ages, the younger Icelandic participants revealed a split between practical and moral choice that is similar to earlier findings in Western research with children (Gerson & Damon, 1978): They attributed to the protagonist an option for the new child in spite of a moral conviction that countered this choice. The data from the additional sample supported this split also for the 7-year-olds. Only 5 out of 30 seven-year-old participants predicted that the protagonist would opt for the friend in the practical choice, whereas 22 out of 30 participants judged it to be morally right to opt for the friend. Thus, “moral inconsistency” in the Icelandic participants is most salient in the younger age groups, whereas the older participants, as expected, established increasingly higher consistency between the practical choice imputed to the protagonist and their own moral judgment. This can be interpreted in two ways: On the one hand, moral values become central to the self (Blasi, 1983; Kohlberg & Candee, 1984); on the other hand, in adolescence, the self is deeply embedded in the friendship relationship (Keller & Edelstein, 1993; Sullivan, 1953), and the concerns of a close friend as well as faithfulness and loyalty to a close friend become predominant values (Hartup, 1993; Sullivan, 1953). Such friendship commitments appear universally
important in both cultures, although for the Chinese participants, this implies a change in priorities over time. In the younger age groups, the Chinese participants are predominantly concerned for the new child; however, in adolescence, they grant priority to the close friend. Cultural differences and similarities are revealed further when comparing the types of reasons given for practical and moral choices. In discussing these results, it should be emphasized that special cross-cultural and cross-linguistic efforts were expended to validate the content categories that were scored very reliably by researchers in both cultures. This makes it unlikely that results are due to language. Overall, the results indicate that the Icelandic participants interpret the situation mainly in terms of a conflict between self-interest and friendship, whereas the Chinese participants interpret the situation as a conflict between altruism and friendship. Over time, however, participants from both cultures come to view close friendship as the more important value. The most salient cultural difference that remained stable across development was between the altruistic orientation of the Chinese participants and the more egoistic orientation of the Icelandic participants in reasoning about the option new child. The distribution of categories of reasons (not included in the statistical analyses above) further supports this findings (see Table 1). The category of relationship interest was used more frequently by the Icelandic than by the Chinese participants, especially in the function of a practical reason for the option new child. In contradistinction, in the same context, the category of friendship quality was used more frequently by the Chinese than by the Icelandic participants. This indicates that the Icelandic participants interpret the relationship with the new child in terms of hedonism, whereas the Chinese participants interpret the relationship with the new child in terms of friendship. Neither the expectation that the frequency of hedonistic reasons in the Icelandic participants would decrease developmentally nor the assumption that young Chinese participants would use this type of reason more frequently than the older ones was supported. In both cultures, however, hedonistic reasons were not perceived as valid moral reasons. The additional sample also supported this finding also for the 7-year-old Icelandic participants. The slight developmental increase of hedonistic reasons among older Icelandic participants in the moral context must be viewed against the background of the actual choice and the moral judgment, which are both in favor of the friend. However, given the strong moral pull of close friendship, older Icelandic participants present subjective wishes as morally legitimate reasons that serve as excuses or justifications of moral breaches, such as weakness of will or legitimate pursuance of one’s own goals (e.g., it should be right to accept such an interesting invitation just once; see Sykes & Matza, 1957). As expected, altruism toward the new child was of little importance for the Icelandic participants – again, borne out by the 7-year-olds. Surprisingly, over time, altruistic reasons even decrease in number in both the practical and the moral contexts. Consistent with findings from Indian participants, who judged helping somebody in need as obligatory (Miller, 1991; Miller & Bersoff, 1995), this type of care reasoning is highly salient in the Chinese participants. Some of the younger Chinese participants referred to the rules of the school or to teachers‘ requests to help someone who is new in class. In fact, this rule is part of the 10 moral rules of the elementary school (Döbert, 1989). Accordingly, in some cases, this type of reason, although relating to the principle of care, may indicate obedience to rules and authorities, defined by Piaget (1965) and by Kohlberg (1984) as moral heteronomy. The question may be raised whether further probing in these cases would have revealed empathic concern as the basis of the rule (Turiel, 1983). The older children referred to care reasons (i.e., to the feelings of the other, and to a generalized norm of helping a person who needs to be integrated into a friendship group). The findings reveal developmental and context effects not found in earlier research. In the Chinese participants, the sense of an altruistic obligation toward the new child seemed to become stronger over time. Nevertheless, altruism was used increasingly less as a reason for practical choice because being with the close friend becomes the more important value in adolescence. However, the Chinese participants seem to experience an intensive moral conflict when they opt for the friend. An additional analysis of the feelings attributed to the protagonist revealed that the Chinese participants consistently argued that the protagonist felt bad, whatever the direction of the choice (Keller, Schuster, Kolbe, Fang, & Fang, 1996). In contrast, the Icelandic participants attributed positive feelings to the protagonist when he or she opted for the friend and thus established congruence with cultural values. Thus, giving priority to the friend reduces the experience of conflict in the Icelandic but not in the Chinese participants. Because our results concern cultural differences in orientations to the principles of justice and care (Miller & Bersoff, 1995), they both support and modify previous findings. In both cultures, we had expected a developmental
trend of increasing importance of both promise and friendship because children become developmentally more sensitive to the interpersonal and moral aspects of the dilemma. We also expected the Icelandic participants to be more strongly oriented toward the contractual aspect and the principle of fairness, whereas the Chinese participants were expected to be more concerned with interpersonal responsibilities involving care. It is interesting that in reasoning about the option of friend, participants in both cultures and in all four age groups referred to interpersonal responsibilities more often in practical than in moral reasoning. Consistent with our expectations, however, Chinese participants used the category of relationship more often than did Icelandic participants at all ages, except at age 15 years. The Icelandic participants evidenced a marked developmental increase in the relationship category over time so that at age 15 years, no cultural difference remained. For the category of promise, the results are reversed. Consistent with the expectation that the Icelandic participants would be more oriented toward the contractual aspect of the situation, this category was used far more frequently by Icelandic participants at all ages, even more in the context of moral reasoning than in the context of practical reasoning. For the Chinese participants, the contractual aspect became increasingly important with time, but, even at age 15 years, this category did not quite reach the importance it had for the Icelandic participants. It should be noted that, in addition, the Icelandic participants frequently used the category of friendship obligation (see Appendix and Table 1), in which the normative and the relationship aspects are intertwined. This is true specifically for 15-year-olds who emphasized the special obligation to keep a promise to the best friend. In sum, however, cultural differences in interpersonal and contractual orientations concerning close friendship decreased over time. With regard to universal and differential aspects of moral reasoning, the findings from this study again both support and modify the results of previous research. They support the Western notion that adolescence is a period of development in which close friendship is particularly important (Sullivan, 1953) and in which responsibilities toward a close friend become important motives for action choices (Bukowski & Sippola, 1996; Keller & Edelstein, 1993); this is also confirmed for the Chinese participants. Thus, in both cultures, close friendship in adolescence appears to imply obligations concerning how one ought to act toward a close friend. But, it should be kept in mind that this developmental convergence originates from very different concerns in the two cultures. Although close friendship is a moral value for the Icelandic participants from the youngest age onward, the developmental task, apparently, is to give this value motivational priority and thus to establish consistency between moral judgment and practical choice. This finding is consistent with Western socialization theories that postulate a predominantly self-centered motivation for younger children. Moral knowledge is seen as external to the self; thus, moral motivation lags behind moral knowledge (Nunner-Winkler & Sodian, 1988). Only with the development of a moral self is moral consistency established (Blasi, 1983; Keller & Edelstein, 1993). The idea of increasing internalization of moral values is at the core of most socialization theories, postulating a sequence from self-interest to conformity with social values and, possibly, to moral autonomy (Hoffman, 1970). Our results suggest that this Western socialization model is not universal, and that it is inadequate for the Chinese participants among whom interpersonal concerns are dominant even in early development. Consistent with findings from other studies that highlight the concern for social harmony as a salient characteristic of the sociomoral reasoning in Asian societies, including China (Boyes & Walker, 1988; Eckensberger & Zimba, 1997; Turiel, in press), the Chinese participants in the youngest age group already perceive the situation as a conflict between the two equally important obligations of friendship and altruism. Although social duties prevail at the younger ages, in the course of development, close friendship achieves priority with increasing age. However, the Chinese participants do not evidence a split between moral knowledge and moral motivation because from early on, they establish consistency between their action choices and their moral knowledge and change their moral judgment consistent with their action choices. Thus, neither is hedonism a predominant motive in younger Chinese participants nor is moral consistency a developmental achievement among them. Among younger Chinese participants, the cultural norm of altruism has priority over close friendship in both practical choice and moral judgment. This appears to result from the intensive moral socialization that Chinese children undergo in kindergarten and elementary school. Taking care of somebody who is new in the group is one of the rules that a morally good student must follow. It is interesting, however, that in the course of development, the value of close friendship takes priority over the cultural norm of altruism toward a stranger. Thus, our findings, in part, confirm Berndt’s (1993) speculation about a cultural barrier against close friendship. But they also support the constructivist
approach according to which development represents a source of change that may work against the prevalence of the cultural norm (Chapman, 1988). Individuals, far from being merely passive recipients of implicit and explicit socialization in their interactions with others, actively construct the meaning of relationships and moral norms in interaction. Socialization experiences in family and school are only one source of the construction process, a source apparently stronger in young childhood than in adolescence. Increasing involvement in peer relationships in adolescence seems to represent a second source that appears to be universal across the two different cultures. Our findings can be interpreted to the effect that experience in peer and friendship relationships may modify cultural concerns and socialization effects. In spite of these similarities, relationship concepts, including close friendship, also reflect marked cultural differences highlighted in cross-cultural research comparing Western and Chinese participants (Goodwin & So-Kun Tang, 1996). In our research, the analyses of the concept of close friendship indicate that the Chinese participants focus on the moral aspects of the relationship (e.g., criticizing each other’s faults). This type of argument was never mentioned by the Icelandic participants (Kolbe & Keller, 1997). In interpreting the meaning and the generalizability of our findings, it should be kept in mind that sociomoral reasoning was assessed with only one dilemma drawn from a conflict in a peer relationship. Clearly, it would be highly desirable to vary the conflict situations experimentally to test for cross-situational stability. We hope that, in the long run, our research data will provide a more comprehensive account of the structure of sociomoral reasoning in the two cultures by taking into account both general reasoning about the norm of promise keeping and the importance of close friendship and parent-child relationships and situation-specific reasoning about a moral conflict in a parent-child relationship. At present, a sample of 19-year-olds is being assessed to trace the development of moral reasoning about close relationships after adolescence and to see whether cultural similarities typical of adolescence remain stable in early adulthood. It is a matter of speculation whether the shift from adolescents’ concerns for intimacy with a close friend to the concern for autonomy observed in the friendship reasoning of young adults (Selman, 1980) will work out differently in Chinese culture, in which interconnectedness with others outside the network of close relationships is a predominant cultural value. It is also worth mentioning that the Chinese sample is being followed up longitudinally. The present study should therefore be viewed as a first step into the little known territory of the development of understanding of close relationships across cultures.
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Appendix Categories of Reasons
Interest for objects refers to the attractivity of material offers (she wants to see the movie, it‘s the last showing/she wants to play with the doll, listen to the record). Interest for relationship refers to the attractivity of the other person and the relationship (wants to go to/play with the new child, wants to get a new friend/wants to play with the friend, talk about interesting things). Altruism/empathy refers to the specific situation, needs, and feelings of the other being taken into account (because he is new in the class, must help somebody who is new, to show consideration for the new student/old friend needs him urgently, must help friend to solve problems). Quality of friendship refers to the special characteristics of the relationship in terms of shared feelings (they have known each other for a long time, she has known her much longer than the other one, they have common interests, have always trusted each other/they have also become friends). Obligation of promise refers to the normative expectations relating to the promise (because she promised, has promised first, otherwise he would lie, she shouldn’t break her word, a person’s character is called to question if he doesn’t keep his word/she has also given her a promise). Obligation of friendship refers to expectations and ideas of how one ought to treat each other in a friendship (one should always keep a promise to a best friend, one should not leave his old friend behind, one should always be faithful to an old friend). Consequences for actor refers to external and internal consequences that may result from the choice (you may be beaten up the next day, friend would not believe him anymore, he would feel bad if he broke the promise/she would feel bad if she left out the new child). Consequences for friend/new child refers to the situation of the other as a consequence of the present decision taken (the friend/new child would be alone, would be sad, has nobody to play with, would get offended/insulted). Consequences for relationship refers to the anticipation of the end of the interaction or friendship or a qualitative change in the relationship (friendship would break, they wouldn‘t play anymore, they would be enemies, they would not be close friends anymore). Other includes no scoreable reasons and strategies of postponing or avoiding a decision in this situation (all three of them go to the movie, go first to old friend to talk and then with the new one to the cinema, arrange to meet friend some other time).