Title

An examination of the decision making process in gifted female adolescents: The relationship with a sense of self, a sense of morality, and at-risk behavior

Date of Completion

January 2000

Keywords

Psychology, Behavioral|Education, Guidance and Counseling|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

Why do adolescents do what they do? A sense of self, a sense of morality, and reasoning about at-risk behaviors interact in the investigation of adolescent decision making. ^ The relationship between self and morality can be viewed from parallel developmental perspectives—Erikson's construction of identity concurrent with Kohlberg's moral stages. Past research laid the foundations for these two scholars, and current findings react to and enhance interpretation of their theories. In comparison to the male centered views, Gilligan's research provided insight into the manner in which girls viewed morality. Practical application of theory can guide a researcher's expectations, but will it produce greater insight into actions? ^ Understanding the self can be understood as a complex developmental task comprised of integrating internal and external factors. Parents, peers, ethnicity, and society contribute to the construction and development of the self. ^ Utilizing qualitative investigation with gifted female adolescents, a thorough examination of interviews revealed their feelings about themselves, their sense of morality and thoughts on at-risk behaviors. Listening to their responses substantiated and negated some theoretical findings. Each girl shared her personal history and the influence of these elements as they manifested in the construction of the self and a sense of morality. ^ Morality, often viewed as the difference between right and wrong, encompassed a broader range of interpretation. Morality was interpreted as a viewpoint contextualized in culture. Contrary to some theorists, there was no consensus of opinion regarding the universality of morals among the girls. ^ Risk factors can be divided into two categories: environmental, such as physical abuse, poverty, exposure to substance abuse, and internal, regarded as school-related learning difficulties. Protective factors, identified in the field of risk and resiliency, can counter balance children and adolescents at risk. In this study at-risk behaviors were identified as sexual promiscuity, pregnancy, drug abuse, and alcohol. These gifted female adolescents recognized their peer culture, however their definition of at-risk behavior diverged from the norms. ^ Advanced cognitive abilities and strong parental influence lay the foundation for the construction and development of their sense of self, sense of morality, and their decisions regarding at-risk behaviors. ^