A Comparative Study of Liberal Arts and Nursing Students' Moral Development in Collegiate Programs
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the influence of the educational experience on the students' level of moral reasoning. It measured and compared the level of moral reasoning of undergraduate nursing and liberal arts students at different levels of academic preparation. While nursing and liberal arts education have a great deal in common, there are certain critical differences: student nurses are exposed to direct patient care experiences which require them to deal with potential conflict-of-value situations, while liberal arts students are not. Moral development theorists believe that dealing with conflict-of-value situations encourages moral development in the direction of higher stage reasoning. Nursing students, therefore, were expected to demonstrate greater gains in moral reasoning level than liberal arts students, particularly after guided patient care experiences. One hundred ninety-four subjects (72 nurses, 122 Liberal Arts students) at freshman, sophomore, junior, senior and graduate student levels of education were recruited at a large midwestern university. Subjects were administered Rest's Defining Issues Test and completed a demographic face sheet which gathered information with respect to the students' year in school, their major, and other variables which were expected to relate to the development of moral reasoning. Findings were as follows: significant differences in D Scores were found for both of the main effects (major and year in school) with significantly lower scores for seniors and significantly lower scores among nurses. The drop at senior year was more dramatic among nursing students and may be a result of a transitional stage in moral development originally posited by Kohlberg. No significant interaction effects were found. The study also found significant differences associated with students' grade point average, type of school and their ranks in their families of origin. A curricular implication of the finding may be that mere exposure to conflict-of-value situations without opportunities to cognitively accommodate such experience is not a sufficient condition of higher stage reasoning. Methodological improvements upon the design employed in this study are also provided, the most important of which relates to the employment of equal cell sizes. Unequal cell sizes in the present study appear to compromise the statistical sensitivity of the design. Finally, the ideas of the transitional stage would appear to require more investigation in future research on moral development. This would be particularly important when subjects are college students who are thought to be particularly prone to movement from one stage of reasoning to another.