Adolescent Girls' Moral Language Use In Relational Aggression Situations

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This research on relational aggression among early adolescent girls in school settings investigated the role of language production in moral judgments. I examined whether adolescent girls' use of language to discuss these moral conflicts reflected intuition or rationality, and whether this relationship changed over three years of their development. Literatures in linguistics, moral development and psychology have never utilized language to help identify the use of intuitive and rational processes in moral decision-making. Building from several literatures and the dual processing theories of reasoning, I developed a new methodology for analyzing adolescent girls' use of intuitive and rational language in discussing moral conflicts and dilemmas surrounding relational aggression. The data was derived from interviews with 15 girls in grades five, six, and seven in their schools from Schrader's (2006-2009) Adolescent Girls Relational Aggression Longitudinal Study. I analyzed data from a relational aggression interview, Moral Judgment Interview (Kohlberg, 1981), Real Life Dilemma Interview, and Metacognitive Interview (Schrader, 1988), which had been administered as part of Schrader's study. The LIWC text analysis program (Pennebaker, Booth, & Francis, 2001) supplemented by a Dual Processing Theoretical Framework and qualitative semantic analyses generated what I refer to as "the Moral Language Use Evaluation Tool" to evaluate intuitive and rational properties of the girls' language. Significant differences were hypothesized to exist in the lexical, syntactic productivity, semantic, and general performance language indicators, reflecting differences in the use of intuitive and rational language in discussing moral judgments. Both quantitative and qualitative content analysis revealed that, as hypothesized, adolescent girls measurably shifted from more intuitive to more rational descriptions of their moral judgment processes between the fifth and seventh grades, and used more intuitive language in discussing real than hypothetical scenarios. A qualitative content analysis of the girls' moral justifications indicated that girls discussing their role-playing as bystanders provided more rational justifications and fewer intuitive justifications than when they discussed a hypothetical scenario. These results provide initial evidence for the value of applying the new moral language methodology to better understand the process by which girls use language in relational aggression conflicts.

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Adolescent girls; Moral language; Relational aggression


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Union Local


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Schrader, Dawn Ellen

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Pizarro, David A.
Lust, Barbara Catherine

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Ph. D., Education

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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