Differences in Morality and Empathy in College Majors
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
WEST, J. L. (2001). Differences in Morality and Empathy in College Majors. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 18, 2017 .

Differences in Morality and Empathy in College Majors
JAMIE L. WEST
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
Previous research has indicated that students of the social sciences have higher empathy than individuals in business and technology majors. It is also indicated that the higher scores of social science students were influenced by their values. Since education majors and criminal justice majors will also enter humanistic fields, they should also be able to demonstrate those skills neccesary to interact with individuals in an empathetic and moral manner. The present study looked at three different majors, Criminal Justice, Education and Psychology with a fourth group containing other majors, to see if any differences existed in their level of empathy and morality. Since empathy and morality can develop with maturity and curriculum, year in college was looked at to see if empathy and morality increased or decreased throughout the course of study. Data were collected from students in classes of the three different majors with participants asked to complete an online survey with questions that measured their level of empathy and morality. No significant differences were found between the majors on their level of empathy and morality, however their was a significant interaction between year in college and major with education majors indicating an increase on the measures of private and interpersonal morality and empathic concern and perspective taking. Psychology majors were found to have decreased on these same measures through their college years. Criminal justice majors were found to have decreased on the measures of private morality and perspective taking.. The findings suggest that education majors are taught to become more empathic and moral through their college years, while psychology majors, although starting out higher on the measure of empathy and morality than the other majors, decrease on these measures. Criminal justice and other majors showed less of a change.

INTRODUCTION
Morality requires that the actions of an individual are "rational, motivated by purpose or intent, and carried out with autonomous free will" (Arnold, 2000, page 367). Lawrence Kohlberg, who has studied moral development extensively, believed that morality depended on an individual`s ability to reason. Kohlberg also maintained that it is through the development of moral reasoning that an individual can become a truly moral person, not only in how they think but also in their actions. In his studies, Kohlberg developed a theory that included three general stages of moral development: preconventional, conventional and postconventional (Branch, 2000). Young children in the preconventional stage develop a sense of right and wrong by the punishment received. In the conventional stage, older children and adolescence actions are right and wrong by the reactions of parents and peers. As they progress toward the next level, the individual begins to comply to the norms of society. In the postconventional stage, young adults begin to develop their own set of morals. Current trends have turned from looking at morality as a stage achieved concept, to exploring the characteristics of the individual and how they incorporate their values into an identity for themselves. Recent research has turned its focus to the role morality plays in everyday life (Arnold, 2000). Prompted by the continuance of disturbing behavior from adolescents in our nation, Judy and Nelson (2000) looked at morality in an adolescent sample. Those individuals involved in crimes of burglary reported lower morality scores than those who reported no recent involvement in burglary. Previous research has also linked empathy to socially acceptable behavior (Bush, Mullis, & Mullis, 2000; Eisenberg, 2000; Shelton & McAdams, 1990)). Empathy is the ability to understand another persons feelings. In research with adults, empathy was found to have motivated moral behavior and caused changes in an individuals attitude towards others (Eisenberg, 2000). Researchers Shelton and McAdams (1990) encourage using empathy to create effective programs that promote prosocial behavior. In their Visions of Morality Scale (VMS) they include empathy as one of the dimensions that are necessary for everyday morality. Of interest to researchers is if empathy can successfully be taught to individuals. Research on this topic suggests that empathy training is most effective during the college years where abstract thought is developed along with a certain achieved moral stage and the ability to introspect emerging (Hatcher, Nadeau, Walsh, Reynolds, Galea and Marz, 1994) . In another study, empathy scores of students were found to have increased after a short skills-based counselling course (Cutcliffe & Cassedy, 1998). Those individuals who possess a strong sense of morality with empathetic attitudes can relate and understand others thus promoting better interpersonal relationships. This is an asset for those individuals who are in humanistic career fields such as nursing and the social sciences. Branch (2000) studied the morality in medical students. He proposed that when medical students are being trained, their moral development may become stunted by focusing too much on the medical aspect and neglecting the humanistic side of medicine. Levine, Pakvis, and Higgins-D`Alessandro (2000) studied the ego and moral development in university students. Their findings suggest that those students in humanistic settings showed significant gains in ego and moral measures over time as opposed to those in technological fields. Myyry and Helkama (2001) have examined differences in students of different fields in their level of emotional empathy. They also looked at whether personal values are reflected in the individuals of different fields of study.. Their findings indicated that the differences in empathy scores of different areas of study were influenced by their values. Social science students as a group had the highest emotional empathy, followed by business students and technology students having the lowest emotional empathy. It is important to note that a gender difference emerged with female technology students having the highest empathy scores. Of interest to the present study is morality and empathy in other fields of study in college, particularly criminal justice and education. Criminal justice prepares individuals for careers that will involve working with other individuals in everyday settings that require a certain degree of morality and empathy. In dealing with victims of crime for instance, empathy is a virtue. In education, students will eventually become educators of our youth. Not only will they need to be able to relate with a wide variety of individuals and family histories they will become role models for these youth. This study will compare empathy and morality in four groups of students in different fields of study, psychology, ciminal justice and education with the fourth group including other majors. It is predicted that psychology majors will possess the greatest degree of morality and empathy and criminal justice and other majors the least. It is also proposed that upper level students in all four groups will have increased morality and empathy.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
Data were collected from students enrolled in a general psychology class and upper level criminal justice, psychology and education classes at Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri. Fifty surveys were completed.

MATERIALS
A survey that consisted of items from the Visions of Morality Scale (Shelton & McAdams, 1990) and the Interpersonal Reactivity Index was given to participants. The Visions of Moraltiy Scale (VMS) has three dimensions: Morality, Liberalism and Empathy. Three types of morality are measured, Private, Interpersonal, and Social. Four subscales of empathy are included, Perspective-taking, fantasy, concern and distress. For purposes of this study, a scale was developed using the three subscales of morality and three subscales of empathy including, fantasy, concern and perspective-taking. Five questions from each subscale was used for a total of 30 questions. These questions were rated by participants on a 5-point scale from " totally agree" to totally disagree."

PROCEDURE
The survey was placed on the world-wide web and was programmed to score each survey. Students in general psychology classes were asked to participate in the study. Those participating were given instructions on how to access the survey via the Internet and fill it out. They were asked on the survey to indicate their major choosing from the options, criminal justice, psychology, education and other. Upper level students in criminal justice, psychology and education were asked to participate. Those participating accessed the survey via the Internet and filled it out. Separate scoring was done for measures of empathy and morality on the scale. Some items were reverse-keyed to control for response sets. A 4 X 2 MANOVA procedure for analyzing the data was used to compare the four groups and the 2 different levels in college.


RESULTS
A 4x2 MANOVA was calcualted examining the effect of major and class level on empathy and morality. No significant effect was found (Lambda (18,105.14) = .668, p > .05). Although the MANOVA test would ordinarily stop here, univariate tests were analyzed to see if interactions occurred between the variables. Several of the univariate tests showed significant interactions between major and class level on measures of private morality, perspective taking, empathic concern and interpersonal morality which can be seen in Figure 1.


DISCUSSION
Although no significant differences were found between major and level of empathy and morality, it is interesting to find that as education majors progress through their years in college they exhibit more of an increase on the measures of private morality, perspective taking, empathic concern and interpersonal morality than the three other groups, criminal justice majors, psychology majors and other majors. Although psychology students showed a decrease on measures of interpersonal morality, perspective-taking, empathic concern and private morality, it is important to note that they began with higher scores as lower level students than the other majors on these measures. Criminal justice majors and other majors showed little change on their scores of empathy and morality from the freshman and sophomore level to the junior and senior level. It could be suggested that education majors learn through the course of their education to be more empathic and moral than the other majors studied. It could be that education majors are taught about empathy and morality as part of their curriculum and therefore, show a greater capacity for some aspects of them. Reassuring is the fact that all majors ended up with an average amount of morality and empathy. Using an online survey as a data collection instrument presented some challenges. Fewer students responded to the request of participation when given the website address and asked to fill out the survey independently. Some participants failed to fill out the survey completely, resulting in their scores not being included in the analysis. This type of data collection did make scoring and analyzing data easier. Advantages and disadvantages of online data collection need to be studied further. People tend to choose their major and desired career path based on their values. In education, criminal justice and psychology, the ultimate goal is to better the quality of life for others. To be able succeed at this task, we must be able to empathize with others and maintain a high level of morality in doing so.


REFERENCES
Arnold, M.L. (2000). Stage, sequence, and sequels: Changing conceptions of morality, post-Kohlberg. Educational Psychology Review, 12, 365-383. Branch, W.T. (2000). Supporting the moral development of medical students. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 15, 503-508. Bush, C.A., Mullis, R. L., & Mullis, A.K. (2000). Differences in empathy between offender and nonoffender youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29, 467-478. Eisenberg, N. (2000). Emotion, regulation, and moral development. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 665-697. Cutliffe, J.R., & Cassedy, P. (1998). The development of empathy in students on a short, skills based counselling course: A pilot study. Nurse Education Today, 19, 250-257. Hatcher, S.L., Nadeau, M.S., Walsh, L.K., Reynolds, M., Galea, J. & Marz, K. (1994). The teaching of empathy for high school and college students: Testing Rogerian methods with the interpersonal reactivity index. Adolescence, 29, 961-974. Judy, B., & Nelson, E.S. (2000). Relationship between parents, peers, morality and theft in an adolescent sample. High School Journal, 83, 31-42. Levine, C.G., Pakvis, P., Higgins D` Alessandro, A. (2000). Ego and moral development in university contexts: The value consistency thesis extended. Journal of Adolescent Research, 15, 482-503. Myyry, L., & Helkama, K. (2001). University students` value priorities and emotional empathy. Educational Psychology, 21, 25-40. Shelton, C.M., & McAdams, D.P. (1990). In search of an everyday morality: The development of a measure. Adolescence, 25, 923-943.


FIGURE 1
Table 1. Interactions

These values indicate that education majors generally increased their score over time, while psychology and criminal justice majors decreased their scores.

F p Major Mean Score

Private Morality 4.541 .008 Education 18.60 Psychology 21.00 Criminal Justice 18.17 Other 20.18

Fantasy .191 .902 Education 17.34 Psychology 17.37 Criminal Justice 17.81 Other 18.56

Perspective-taking 3.565 .022 Education 19.50 Psychology 17.48 Criminal Justice 18.33 Other 18.96

Empathic Concern 3.517 .023 Education 19.37 Psychology 21.57 Criminal Justice 20.06 Other 20.00

Interpersonal Morality 6.882 .001 Education 14.58 Psychology 16.66 Criminal Justice 14.58 Other 16.44

Social Morality 1.393 .258 Education 14.43 Psychology 15.73 Criminal Justice 14.05 Other 16.03


SURVEY
Empathy and Morality Scale

For each of the following choose to what extent you agree with the statement.

1. I really get involved with the feelings of the characters in a novel.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

2. I am usually objective when I watch a movie or play, and I don`t often get completely caught up in it.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

3. After seeing a play or movie, I have felt as though I were one of the characters.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

4. I daydream and fantasize, with some regularity, about things that might happen to me.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

5. When I watch a good movie, I can very easily put myself in the place of a leading character.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

6. Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

7. If I`m sure I`m right about something, I don`t waste much time listening to other people`s arguments.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

8. I try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

9. I believe that there are two sides to every question and try to look at them both.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

10. I try to look at everybody`s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

11. When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

12. When I see someone being treated unfairly, I sometimes don`t feel very much pity for them.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

13. I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

14. Other people`s misfortunes do not usually disturb me a great deal.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

15. I am often quite touched by things that I see happen.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

16. I am walking alone and I find a dollar on the street. I pick it up and continue walking. I pass a group of people who are collecting money for muscular dystrophy. I drop the dollar that I found into the basket.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

17. I read in a psychology magazine how people who smile actually help other people feel better about themselves. The next day when I go to work as a checker at the local grocery store I intentionally make a point of smiling at each customer who comes to my checkout stand.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

18. It is a snowy day and I am off from school. I decide to walk around the block to get some fresh air. As I begin walking I notice a driver and his car are stuck in the snow. I keep walking and do not stop to help.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

19. When cleaning up my room I collect several pieces of clothing that I can no longer use. I can dispose of them or drive five miles to the Salvation Army and drop them off in their drop off box. I dispose of them and do not drive the five miles.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

20. I read in the paper about a family who has lost all their belongings in a fire. I anonymously send a ten dollar check to a fund set up for the family by the town newspaper.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

21. A fellow student whom I know casually asks if I have an hour this Saturday to help him/her with some math problems ( I am very good at math). I am free on Saturday so I tell the student that I would be happy to help him/her.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

22. I have a personality clash with one of my teachers, and simply do not get along with him. I hear from a family friend that this teacher`s father has been quite sick recently. Over the next few weeks I make a conscious effort to be respectful in class and I go out of my way to say "hello" to him when I pass him in the halls.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

23. A neighbor on my block asks me to take her shopping twice a week while her husband is recuperating from a heart attack (she does not drive). I agree to take her twice a week for the next three weeks.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

24. I am involved in a heated argument with a classmate about a historical date. I read a few days later in a library book that my classmate is right. I apologize for the argument and admit that he/she is right.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

25. I am walking home and I pass a woman I barely know (she lives at the other end of my block). She is carrying a large and medium bag of groceries with some difficulty. I continue walking toward my home.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

26. This weekend, several friends of mine are going to a movie which has gotten good reviews. The movie has also been depicted by several reviewers "as unfortunately supporting and reinforcing sexist and violent attitudes." I go to the film.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

27. In order to make people aware of world hunger, students at my school are requested to restrict their food intake at lunch during the month of March and donate the money they save to a world hunger drive. I take the pledge to be part of this drive and donate my lunch money.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

28. A local restaurant has discriminated against a racial minority. I am out one night with a group of friends. We are all hungry and my three friends voice a desire to eat at this restaurant. I speak up and say I do not want to eat at the restaurant because of its discriminatory policies.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

29. I am able to get a part-time job after school. My new employer tells me that he can use one other person on a part-time basis. I know that several of my friends would like to have the job. A student whom I know casually comes from a family that is experiencing some difficult financial problems and also would like to have the job. I mention to one of my friends with whom I would enjoy working that there is a job opening.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

30. I read where a large company`s policies have victimized the lower class of an overseas country. This company makes one of my favorite snack foods. As a way of protest, I give up eating this snack.

Totally Agree Agree Neutral Disagree Totally Disagree

What is your Major?

Criminal Justice Education Psychology Other

Please Indicate Your Age Range

18-25 26-30 31-40 41-50 50+

Your level in college:

Freshman Sophomore Junior Senior

Thank you for filling out my survey!

Submitted 5/2/01 12:01:34 PM
Last Edited 5/2/01 12:32:54 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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