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Prosocial moral reasoning and prosocial behavior among Turkish and Spanish adolescents.

The study of the development of morality and its correlation with prosocial behavior across, and within, different cultures has gained increased interest among psychologists, resulting in much scholarly discussion and debate about the factors that influence the development of morality and the potential role of culture in this. According to some cultural psychologists (e.g., Shweder, Mahapatra, & Miller, 1987) morality is a social construct shaped by cultural norms that might vary greatly across cultural communities, and that is probably affected by underlying differences in such factors as gender roles, religious values, rights, and responsibilities. Cultural values and socialization practices might promote or emphasize moral motives deemed to be of particular significance in specific cultures (see Whiting & Edwards, 1988). However, cross-cultural studies on prosocial development are limited. In this study we examined cultural group, age group, and gender differences in prosocial moral reasoning and prosocial behaviors as well as the association between these variables among young people in early and middle adolescence living in Spain and Turkey.

Prosocial moral reasoning is the cognitive ability to make decisions about moral dilemmas in situations where one's own interests conflict with those of others and in contexts where formal rules are weak or absent (Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006). In this sense, prosocial moral reasoning is different from the construct of Kohlbergian prohibitive-oriented reasoning (Eisenberg, 1986). Unlike the prohibitive moral judgment approach, roles of authorities, laws, rules, and formal obligations are minimal in prosocial moral decisions. Furthermore, the levels of prosocial moral reasoning are not viewed as hierarchical, integrated structures or as being universal and invariant in sequence. Prosocial moral reasoning is, thus, considered a distinct domain of moral development (Jaffee & Hyde, 2000).

Findings gained in the few existing cross-cultural studies of prosocial moral reasoning present a mixed pattern. In some studies evidence is provided for cultural group differences in prosocial moral reasoning (Carlo, Koller, Eisenberg, Da Silva, & Frohlich, 1996; Carlo, Roesch, & Koller, 1999; Tietjen, 1986) whereas others show a pattern of similarities across cultural groups (Boehnke, Silbereisen, Eisenberg, Reykowski, & Palmonari, 1989). These findings suggest that when cultural group differences exist, such differences may be owing to factors such as industrialization, cultural values (e.g., religious, individualism/ collectivism), and socialization practices.

Theorists have posited that cultures that emphasize a collectivist orientation promote and nurture prosocial values and behaviors in order to benefit societal groups; whereas individualistic societies emphasize competitiveness and self-gain (Triandis, 1995). Consistent with these expectations, researchers have found that, in general, individuals from collectivist societies are more likely to be cooperative and prosocial than are individuals from individualistic societies (Knight, Bernal, & Carlo, 1995). Turkish and Spanish societies have been assessed as fairly similar with respect to collectivism, but to be different along the individualism dimension, with Spanish samples being more individualistic (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002). Both these societies are growing in prosperity and urbanization, with a rapid transformation from a traditional, agricultural, and patriarchal society to a modern, industrial, and egalitarian one. In Spain this major transformation has reinforced individualist orientation and more instrumental and egalitarian interpersonal relations (Grad, 2006). On the other hand, in Turkey although a rural, traditional, and patriarchal pattern is still applicable to the majority, there is an emerging coexistence of traditional and modern features in Turkish middle-class urban families (Ataca, 2006). Moreover, a difference in majority religious orientation--Catholicism in Spain versus Muslim in Turkey--may be associated with differences in prosocial moral reasoning. Thus, based on these differences, one might expect cultural group differences in prosocial tendencies in these two societies.

Another goal in this study was to examine age group differences in prosocial moral reasoning and behavior among adolescents in the two countries being studied. Cognitive theorists have proposed and identified age-related changes in prosocial moral reasoning (Eisenberg et al., 2006). It has been found that young children tend to use primarily hedonistic and needs-oriented moral reasoning, while older children and adolescents tend to use approval, stereotypic, and internalized reasoning (Eisenberg, Carlo, Murphy, & Van Court, 1995). Generally, it has been found that there are increases in the use of advanced levels of prosocial moral reasoning (self-reflective, empathic, and internalized modes of reasoning) and decreases in the use of the lowest levels (hedonistic, approval-oriented, and needs-oriented reasoning) as children grow older (Eisenberg et al., 1995). Hence, we expected that children in early adolescence would score higher on hedonistic and approval reasoning, but lower on internalized and a composite of moral reasoning than would young people in midadolescence.

A further area of interest in our study was whether or not there were gender differences in moral reasoning and prosocial conduct among the adolescents who took part. There has been much scholarly discussion and debate surrounding gender differences in reasoning about moral dilemmas (Jaffe & Hyde, 2000; Walker, 1984). Socialization theorists (Eisenberg, 1986; Gilligan, 1982) have suggested that gender-specific socialization may lead to gender differences in moral development. Indeed, early adolescence is noted as a period of gender intensification such that gender differences in prosociality might be more pronounced during this age period than during other age periods with females being more prosocial than males (Eisenberg et al., 1995; Eisenberg, Miller, Shell, McNalley, & Shea, 1991). Support for these suppositions were reported in a study of Brazilian children and adolescents (Carlo et al., 1996; see also Eisenberg, Zhou, & Koller, 2001). With regard to prosocial behaviors, gender differences in prosocial behaviors have generally been found in prior research with girls exhibiting more prosocial behaviors compared with boys (Eisenberg et al., 2006). Thus, it was expected that among the groups we were studying girls would score higher than boys on internalized levels of prosocial moral reasoning and for prosocial behaviors whereas the converse would be true for approval-oriented prosocial moral reasoning.

The last goal in our study was to examine how moral reasoning related to young adolescents' prosocial behavior. According to cognitive theorists (e.g., Colby & Kohlberg, 1987; Eisenberg, 1986), moral reasoning influences individuals' moral decisions and behavior. In general, prosocial moral reasoning is expected, and has been found, to be modestly correlated with prosocial behaviors (Eisenberg, 1986; Underwood & Moore, 1982). There is evidence that adolescents who act prosocially show higher levels of moral reasoning in both Western countries (Carlo, Hausmann, Christensen, & Randall, 2003; Carlo et al., 1996; Eisenberg et al., 1991, 1995) and in non-Western countries (Akyel, 1986; Bar-Tal, Raviv, & Leiser, 1980; Kumru, Carlo, & Edwards, 2004; Mestre, Samper, & Frias, 2002). Therefore, we expected that prosocial behavior would be positively correlated with internalized (higher level) and a composite of prosocial moral reasoning, but negatively correlated with hedonistic and approval-oriented (lower level) prosocial moral reasoning across both cultural groups of adolescents in our study.


Participants and Procedure

Participants were 1,582 adolescents from Ankara, Turkey (185 male, 145 female) and Valencia, Spain (673 male, 579 female). The Ankara sample ranged in age from 13 to 17 years ([M.sub.age] = 14.50, SD = 1.25) and came primarily from middle- and upper-class families with a small number from working-class families. They were recruited from public middle (199 students) and high (131 students) schools. The Valencia sample ranged in age from 13 to 17 years ([M.sub.age] = 15.15, SD = .08) and was randomly selected from both private and public middle (833 students) and high (419 students) schools. They were primarily from middle-class families.

Questionnaire completion took 25-35 minutes in Turkey (administered to groups of 40 to 45 students) and 40-45 minutes in Spain (administered to groups of 30 to 35 students as part of a larger survey).


Prosocial moral reasoning. Two adapted versions of the paper-and-pencil measure of prosocial moral reasoning (PROM; Carlo et al., 1996) were used. The PROM was translated into Turkish and Spanish by the primary investigators, and backtranslated by other moral developmental experts fluent in both their native languages and English. Five stories (Tony's/Lucy's Story, Tommy's/Sandy's Story, The Flood Story, Math Story, and The Accident Story) were used that reflect a conflict between a protagonist's needs and desires and those of others, and that do not involve issues that come under the situations covered by formal laws, rules, or regulations.

The item scores across the five stories for each of the five types of moral reasoning were summed to obtain scores for frequency of hedonistic, needs-oriented, stereotypic, internalized, and approval-oriented reasoning. To obtain a participant's preference for one prosocial moral reasoning type over the others (proportion scores), each of the frequency scores was divided by the sum of all the frequency scores. To assess preference for higher level reasoning over lower level reasoning, a PROM composite score was derived by summing hedonistic and needs-oriented proportion scores, internalized proportion score multiplied by 3, and stereotypic and approval proportion scores multiplied by 2 (see Carlo et al., 1992, for details). Cronbach's alphas for the PROM subscales and PROM composite, respectively, were .57, .58, .46, .48, .76, and .82 for the Turkish sample, and .75, .59, .58, .71, .85, and .88 for the Spanish sample. In an independent sample with Turkish early adolescents, Kumru (2002) found similar alpha coefficients (ranging from .52 to .86). Furthermore, previous researchers have found adequate reliability and validity for the PROM (Carlo et al., 1999; Eisenberg et al., 1995) with a study by Mestre, Frias, Samper, and Tur (2002) having been conducted with Spanish adolescents.

Peer rating of prosocial behaviors. To reduce self-presentational demands and shared method variance, peer rating of prosocial behaviors was obtained. All participants were asked to rate each of their classmates on: "How often does your friend help you when you ask?", and "How helpful is your friend?" Responses were rated on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 = never to 5 = always. The correlations between these two items were .96 for Turkish students and .91 for Spanish students. Previous researchers have shown this 2-item measure of prosocial behavior to be valid (Carlo et al., 1996).


Relationship Between Prosocial Behavior and the PROM Subscales

For both cultural groups, prosocial behaviors were negatively related to hedonistic prosocial moral reasoning (rs = -.13, p < .05, for Turkey; r = -.09, p < .01, for Spain), and positively related to internalized prosocial moral reasoning (rs = .14, p < .05, for Turkey and Spain) and the PROM composite (r = .18, p < .01, for Turkey; r = .17, p < .01, for Spain). For Turkish adolescents, prosocial behaviors were positively related to stereotypic prosocial moral reasoning (r = -.13, p < .05), and for Spanish adolescents, prosocial behaviors were negatively related to approval-oriented prosocial moral reasoning (r = -.10, p < .01).

Cultural Group, Age Group, and Gender Differences in Prosocial Moral Reasoning and Prosocial Behavior

A 2 x 2 x 2 (cultural group [Turkish, Spanish] x age group [early, middle adolescents] x gender [male, female]) analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed to assess the group differences in prosocial moral reasoning and prosocial behaviors (for the latter we conducted an analysis of covariance [ANCOVA] with the PROM composite as a covariate). For these analyses, we computed a median split based on age to form the early adolescent (from 13 to 15 years) and middle adolescent (from 15.1 to 17 years) groups.

There was a cultural group main effect for hedonistic, F(1, 1512) = 989.09, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .40; needs-oriented, F(1, 1552) = 2145.52,p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .58; approval-oriented, F(1, 1517) = 19.38, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .01; stereotypic F(1, 1549) = 1791.00, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .54; internalized, F(1, 1515) = 771.71, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .34; and composite prosocial moral reasoning scores, F(1, 1557) = 36.29, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .02. Compared with the Spanish group Turkish adolescents scored higher on needs-oriented ([M.sub.Turkish] = .21, SD = .04; [M.sub.Spanish] = .13, SD = .03) and stereotypic reasoning ([M.sub.Turkish] = .21, SD = .03; [M.sub.Spanish] = .14, SD = .02) subscales, and Spanish adolescents scored higher than the Turkish group on hedonistic ([M.sub.Spanish] = .26, SD = .04; [M.sub.Turkish] = .18, SD = .04), approval-oriented ([M.sub.Spanish] = .18, SD = .05; [M.sub.Turkish] = .17, SD = .05), internalized ([M.sub.Spanish] = .31, SD = .04; [M.sub.Turkish] = .23, SD = .04) subscales, and composite prosocial moral reasoning ([M.sub.Spanish] = 1.88, SD = .11; [M.sub.Turkish] = 1.84, SD = .07) as well as on prosocial behavior ([M.sub.Spanish] = 4.67, SD = .76; [M.sub.Turkish] = 3.29, SD = .50).

We also found an age group main effect for approval, internalized, and needs-oriented prosocial moral reasoning, F(1, 1517) = 21.61, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .01, F(1, 1515) = 10.56, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .01, and F(1, 1552) = 19.74, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .01, respectively. Compared with the group in midadolescence the early adolescent group scored higher on approval-oriented reasoning ([M.sub.early] = .18, SD = .04; [M.sub.middle] = .17, SD = .05), while the midadolescent group scored higher on internalized reasoning ([M.sub.middle] = .30, SD = .05; [M.sub.early] = .28, SD = .05). There was a significant cultural group x age group interaction effect for the needs-oriented subscale F(1, 1552) = 18.24, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .01. Simple effect tests showed that for Turkish students, the midadolescent group (M = .22, SD = .04) scored higher than early adolescents (M = .20, SD = .04) on needs-oriented prosocial moral reasoning, F(1, 323) = 14.10, p < .001, but there was no difference between early (M = .13, SD = .02) and midadolescents (M = .13, SD = .02) for Spanish students. For both early and midadolescent groups, Turkish students scored higher than Spanish students on the needs-oriented subscale, F(1, 533) = 824.21, p < .001, F (1, 1023) = 1425.96, p < .001, respectively.

There were also gender main effects for approval-oriented, internalized, and composite scores, F(1, 1549) = 38.21, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .02, F(1, 1517) = 34.67, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .02, F(1, 1515) = 32.98, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .02, F(1, 1557) = 20.88, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .01, respectively. Girls were more likely to score higher than boys for the internalized subscale ([M.sub.girls] = .30, SD = .05; [M.sub.boys] = .29, SD = .05) and composite moral reasoning ([M.sub.girls] = 1.89, SD = .09; [M.sub.boys] = 1.86, SD = .10); but boys scored higher than girls on approval-oriented reasoning ([M.sub.boys] = .18, SD = .04; [M.sub.girls] = .16, SD = .04).

The ANCOVA revealed strong cultural group and gender effects for prosocial behavior, F(1, 1543) = 898, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] =.37 and F(1, 1543) = 9.21, p < .01, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .01, respectively. Spanish adolescents scored higher on prosocial behavior than did Turkish adolescents. Girls were more likely to score higher for prosocial behavior than were boys. Results also indicated a cultural group x gender interaction effect for prosocial behavior, F(1, 1543) = 22.71, p < .001, partial [[eta].sup.2] = .02. Simple effect tests showed that Spanish girls (M = 4.92, SD = .67) scored higher than Spanish boys (M = 4.45, SD = .76), F(1, 1238) = 129.47, p < .001 but no significant gender difference was found between Turkish girls (M = 3.33, SD = .50) and boys (M = 3.27, SD = .51). Furthermore, Spanish girls scored higher than Turkish girls, F(1, 707) = 681.73, p < .001, and Spanish boys scored higher than Turkish boys, F(1, 846) = 393.48, p < .001.


In general, there were strong cultural group differences in the prosocial moral reasoning and prosocial behaviors of the adolescents in our study. Furthermore, a number of age and gender differences in these variables were also found. As expected, higher levels of prosocial moral reasoning were associated with higher levels of prosocial behaviors across both cultural groups. The findings demonstrate an overall culture-specific pattern of prosocial tendencies among adolescents from Spain and Turkey.

Spanish adolescents scored higher on the PROM composite and for internalized moral reasoning than did Turkish adolescents. Scholars have noted that cultural group differences in higher levels of moral reasoning could be because of socialization differences in the emphasis of required sociocognitive skills such as abstraction and hypothetical-deductive reasoning (Eisenberg et al., 2001). It may be that such reasoning modes are more strongly promoted in the educational system in Spain than in Turkey. On the other hand, the fact that, compared with the Turkish group, Spanish adolescents used more lower level forms of prosocial moral reasoning suggests a strong self-interest that may be attributed to the relatively more individualistic cultural orientation in Spain compared with Turkey (Oyserman et al., 2002). Consistent with this explanation, compared with the Spanish group, Turkish adolescents preferred a more primitive empathic mode of reasoning (i.e., needs-oriented) that reflects recognition of others' needs as a legitimate basis for helping and made more use of stereotypic prosocial moral reasoning. These findings suggest that the emphasis of the physical and psychological needs of others by socialization agents is more strongly endorsed in Turkish culture than it is in Spanish culture. Unfortunately, there is currently no research in countries other than the United States in which the socialization of prosocial moral reasoning is directly compared.

We also found that Spanish adolescents perceived their peers as acting more prosocially than Turkish adolescents did even after controlling for the level of prosocial moral reasoning. This was contrary to our expectation regarding these collectivistic societies, even though Spanish society has a relatively more individualistic orientation than Turkish society does (Oyserman et al., 2002). Our findings from these two collectivist societies suggest that there might be some other culturally related factors (e.g., socialization, religion, morality) that might account for cultural group differences in prosocial behavior.

As expected, compared with younger adolescents older adolescents used more higher level forms of prosocial moral reasoning as did girls when compared with boys and younger adolescents and boys used more lower level forms of prosocial moral reasoning. These findings are consistent with cognitive-developmental theorists who suggest that age differences in moral reasoning are associated with age differences in cognitive skills and with gender socialization theorists who assert that girls are encouraged to express prosociality more than are boys (Eisenberg, 1986). There was also a cultural group x age group interaction effect on needs-oriented prosocial moral reasoning, and a cultural group x gender interaction effect on prosocial behavior but the effect sizes were quite modest. Clearly, further research is needed to examine whether or not the age group and gender difference patterns we found in prosocial moral reasoning and behavior would be replicated in other Turkish and Spanish samples.

Consistent with previous research in other cultures (Carlo et al., 1996; Eisenberg et al., 1995, 2001), prosocial behavior was related significantly with different forms of prosocial moral reasoning. More specifically, in general, adolescents who preferred other-oriented and sophisticated modes of reasoning were rated as more generous and helpful by their peers, whereas those who preferred self-focused and self-presentational modes of moral reasoning were seen by their peers as less generous and helpful. However, only Spanish adolescents who used approval-oriented reasoning were viewed as less generous and helpful by their peers, whereas only Turkish adolescents who preferred stereotypic reasoning were rated as more generous and helpful by their peers. The findings suggest that, in Spanish culture, gaining the approval of others is a motive that mitigates helping behaviors particularly strongly; whereas, in Turkish culture, stereotyped trait attributes about oneself and others seem to be associated with more prosocial behaviors.

There were some limitations to the study. First, some of the subscales of the PROM had low reliability coefficients. It is not common for scales with five items or less to have a low Cronbach's alpha coefficient because alpha coefficients are heavily influenced by the number of items in a scale (Nunnally, 1978). Therefore, it is important to be cautious in interpreting findings regarding these subscales and further refinement of the PROM may be necessary. Additionally, it is important to acknowledge the wide variability within cultural groups such that further research is needed using more representative samples. Nonetheless, the pattern of between-culture group differences in prosocial moral reasoning and prosocial behavior found in adolescents from the two cultures we studied add to the sparse extant research writings on prosocial development in countries other than the United States. The fact that both cultural groups of adolescents in our study used higher as well as lower level prosocial moral reasoning, with differences in terms of preferences for the two groups, suggests that prosocial moral reasoning develops in a similar manner across cultures. Further research on the development of prosocial development in different cultural groups is needed to improve our understanding of positive morality.


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Abant Izzet Baysal University


University of Nebraska-Lincoln


University of Valencia

Asiye Kumru, Department of Psychology, Abant Izzet Baysal University; Gustavo Carlo, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Maria V. Mestre and Paula Samper, Faculty of Psychology, University of Valencia.

Asiye Kumru is now at the Department of Psychology, Ozyegin University. Gustavo Carlo is now at the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri Columbia. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Asiye Kumru, Department of Psychology, Ozyegin University, Nisantepe Mevki Orman Sk. No:13 Alemdag, Cekmekoy, Istanbul, Turkey. Email:
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Author:Kumru, Asiye; Carlo, Gustavo; Mestre, Maria V.; Samper, Paula
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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