Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 336–352 | Cite as

Moral motivation of college students through multiple developmental structures: Evidence of intrapersonal variability in a complex dynamic system

  • Ulas Kaplan
  • Caitlin E. Crockett
  • Terrence Tivnan
Original Paper


This study is based on a broad conception of moral motivation by applying self-determination theory and dynamic systems perspectives. Accordingly, not only moral action, but also moral judgment is motivated. We carried out a detailed exploration of intrapersonal variability as a central aspect of moral motivation. Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development are reconceptualized as dynamic process structures of motivation that operate together within person simultaneously in different degrees. A total of 546 college students responded to a new instrument to assess moral motivation using a recognition task. Findings provided support for the notion that individuals use multiple motivational structures in different degrees as they make moral judgments. The majority of correlations between within-person operation degrees of motivational structures were significant. Variations in these correlations are explained to a large extent by developmental proximity of stage pairs. Results revealed both variability and developmental order in moral motivation. Implications of a dynamic developmental perspective are discussed in terms of understanding the complexity of moral motivation in ways that are sensitive to both intrapersonal and contextual variability.


Moral motivation Moral development Moral judgment Intrapersonal variation Dynamic systems 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulas Kaplan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Caitlin E. Crockett
    • 3
  • Terrence Tivnan
    • 4
  1. 1.New York University Steinhardt School of CultureEducation and Human Development CREATE LabNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Developmental PsychologyUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.College of EducationUniversity of KentuckyLexingtonKentucky
  4. 4.Harvard Graduate School of EducationCambridgeUSA

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