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Theories of Cognitive and Moral Development

Introduction and Alignment

Cognitive Development Theory

Cognitive development theory posits that individuals advance through different stages. One example of how this knowledge can be applied in social work is when working with children. Social workers need to have a good understanding of child cognitive development to recognize normative patterns of development and be alert to issues of concern. They can recognize patterns of overall development and be able to detect when a child’s development may be delayed or developmental milestones are missed. This knowledge is key to promoting the well-being of children and is also a vital component of family support, assessment, and planning interventions.

Cognitive theory is also highly applicable in working with adolescents and adults. The theory posits that thinking, not emotion, should be the focus of intervention, and assumes that people have the potential to correct irrational or distorted beliefs. A social worker can work with a client to determine the cognitive distortions of a situation. For example, a disorder that features cognitive symptoms is anorexia nervosa. An individual refuses to maintain a reasonable body weight because of distorted beliefs about physical appearance and the effects of food on the body. During intervention, the social worker can help a client through techniques directed at both cognitive and behavioral modifications and work to strengthen the client’s sense of self by bringing balance to emotional and cognitive experiences.

Moral Development Theory

Moral development is related to cognitive development in that it proceeds in stages. Through family and environmental influences, children learn the social and moral values of their culture. During childhood and adolescence, the foundations of morality are established. Social workers can be attuned for signs of the different stages of cognitive and moral development to assist clients with personal dilemmas and help them achieve happier, more fulfilling lives.

Upon completion of this assignment, you should be able to:

  • Explore the impact diversity and difference have in shaping life experiences. (PO 2)
  • Demonstrate understanding of person-in-environment from a developmental perspective. (PO 6)


  • Textbook: Contemporary Human Behavior Theory: A Critical Perspective for Social Work
  • Media: Moral Development
  • Video: Terrorist’s Son: I Chose Peace over Extremism

Background Information

The broad array of theories presented in your readings for this assignment offer important concepts to aid social workers in our understanding of the historical, social, political, and economic factors that have an impact on people’s lives.

Review the chart to see the applicability of how theories of cognitive and moral development at a variety of levels provide a sound theoretical base for an activist model of practice.

Levels of Application of Theories of Cognitive and Moral Development


  1. In your textbook, Contemporary Human Behavior Theory: A Critical Perspective for Social Work, read Chapter 9, “Theories of Cognitive and Moral Development.”
  2. Click the link to watch the media presentation “Moral Development” and complete the interactive activities and learn more about how an individual’s morality changes and develops as they grow older.
    CoCo Presentation
  3. Watch the video “Terrorist’s Son: I Chose Peace over Extremism” at You can also download the Terrorist’s Son: I Chose Peace over Extremism Video Transcript.pdf file.
    1. If you are not already logged in to the Off-Campus Library Services (OCLS) website, you will be prompted to enter your OCLS login and password.
  4. In an APA formatted paper, respond to the following prompts:
    1. How can environmental and familial factors influence moral development during middle childhood? Support your answer with information from the readings.
    2. What happened in Zak’s life that enabled him to choose a different life path than his father did?
    3. Apply Kohlberg’s theory of moral development to Zak’s story. How does this theory help us understand his journey?
    4. If Zak were your client, how would you help him process his feelings of loss and grief?
  5. Before finalizing your work, ensure that you:
    1. Have followed the assignment instructions carefully.
    2. Use the computer’s spelling and grammar check.
    3. Use APA format for organization, style, and source credits, including:
      1. 12-point, double-spaced Times New Roman font
      2. One-inch margins on all sides
      3. Normal character spacing
      4. In-text citations
      5. Title page and reference page (may not have reference page as it is not required to list Bible in references)
      6. Properly formatted headings
  6. Review the rubric that your instructor will use to evaluate your work. Self-assess your assignment using the rubric and make improvements as needed to meet expectations and ensure that your work fulfills all the requirements.
  7. When you have completed your assignment, save a copy for yourself and submit a copy to your instructor using the Dropbox by the end of the workshop.
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