Is autonomy as a universal aspiration?
A 'Science News' dispatch reporting on the work of Charles Hewlig, Eliot Turiel and other cross-cultural moral psychologists, answers yes. Read it here.
During the teen years, kids in Asian and Western cultures alike gravitate toward a broader class of moral imperatives, including rights to privacy, education and freedom of speech, Helwig and colleagues find in another new study published in the August Social Development. Adolescents also appeal to democratic notions, such as majority rule, to justify a preference for representative forms of government — even if they live in a communist or authoritarian society.
Simply put, from childhood on, many people critically appraise their cultural values, says psychologist Elliot Turiel of UC Berkeley.
Not every individual in a culture shares the same assumptions about what counts as good and bad values, how to act around parents and other key issues, as has traditionally been assumed by anthropologists and psychologists, in Turiel’s view. Instead, he argues, members of a culture try to balance sometimes-clashing beliefs about individual rights and social obligations.
Such tensions feed off each culture’s tendency to give some groups power over others. Individuals who have limited clout —children relative to parents, wives relative to husbands in many societies, citizens relative to authoritarian rulers — often follow certain cultural practices simply to avoid the dire consequences of dissent, Turiel asserts. Opposition gets expressed in hidden, underground ways.
“Individuals often take the initiative to go against, or attempt to change, existing social conditions on the basis of what they see as morally right and wrong,” Turiel says.
In an influential 1994 study, Turiel and a colleague interviewed husbands and wives in a Druze Arab community in Israel. In this male-dominated society, the large majority of wives regarded their unequal standing in marriages as unfair. Wives routinely said that they did their husbands’ bidding only to avoid becoming impoverished by abandonment or divorce.