The Psychological Record

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 29–34 | Cite as

Physiological Responsivity to a Socially Stressful Situation: The Effect of Level of Moral Development

  • Steven G. Gray
  • Howard H. Hughes
  • Lawrence J. Schneider


The present study sought to determine whether or not a personality variable, the level of moral development, was related to the way in which individuals respond to socially taboo words. As a result of their responses to a moral judgment questionnaire based on Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, 28 participants were assigned to one of two groups: (a) the conventional level group (Stages 3 and 4), a level that is desirous of maintaining social mores for their own sake, and (b) the postconventional level group (Stage 6), a mentality that emphasizes one’s own autonomy with regard to the adherence to social rules. Participants’ galvanic skin responses were assessed while they viewed 18 socially taboo and neutral words presented sequentially via a memory drum. As expected, participants’ GSRs to taboo words were significantly greater than their responses to neutral words, p <.05. Additionally, as hypothesized, the conventional level participants demonstrated significantly greater GSRs to socially taboo words than did the more morally autonomous postconventional participants. These findings support Kohlberg’s theory. Some practical applications of the present study are also discussed.


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Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven G. Gray
    • 1
  • Howard H. Hughes
    • 1
  • Lawrence J. Schneider
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorth Texas State UniversityDentonUSA

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