Psychological Models of Selman and Kohlberg

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We should also consider the theories and models of Selman and Kohlberg in examining the literature on the cognitive and emotional development of individuals in middle childhood. Although sometimes – at least to adults – the moral, cognitive and emotional world of the child and especially the adolescent seems to be a chaotic place, in fact young people pass through a series of regular, predictable psychological states analogous to the progression of physical states that humans pass through as they sit up, then crawl, then walk. But while those physical states are visible and easily mapped, the cognitive and moral states are implicit, tacit and hidden. The result of this condition is that scholars disagree over the exact definition of each stage.

Selman (1997) has developed a model that focuses on the ways in which the perspective that an individual takes shifts as one grows older. The infant is egocentric, understanding the world through his or her own needs and believing that others act in a similar fashion. As we get older, Selman argues, we not only acquire the ability to empathize with others, to understand how they might interpret the world, but an understanding that their own complex view of the world – part egocentrism, part empathy, partly true, partly inaccurate – mirrors the complexity of the perspective that others share.

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