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Project Update

We are now heading towards the final phase of piloting our phronesis measure with Year 10 pupils (14 and 15 year olds) and undergraduate university students. This is phase 1 of our project where we aim to test the convergent and divergent validity of our newly designed measure of phronesis. This measure incorporates existing measures of moral identity, moral emotion and moral reasoning and asks participants to complete questionnaires which involve:

• Reading two stories and answering questions about how you would act if you were faced with a similar situation and why.

• Answering questions about your personality and what traits you feel are important to you.

• Answering questions on your helping behaviours.

Whilst the Phronesis team are close to completing the initial piloting phase, there may well be opportunities for future involvement during the second phase of the project. If you are a secondary school head teacher, teacher or governor and are interested in your year 10 pupils taking part in our project during the not-too-distant future then please get in contact with Dr Catherine Darnell at or 0121 4147028. Similarly, if you are an undergraduate university student aged between 18-22 years and would like to take part in our study please click on this link to complete the phronesis questionnaire. 

Project Overview

The Psychological Development of Character: Emotion, Identity and Phronesis project aims to investigate the factors that motivate moral action in adolescents. Specifically, the project will focus on the ‘gappiness problem’; addressing what bridges the gap between virtue literacy (knowledge of virtues) and virtuous moral action (acting in a virtuous way). Existing theories of moral action suggest three main factors that may mediate this link; moral identity, moral emotions and moral reasoning. Typically, moral identity refers to how important moral traits are to one’s sense of self, moral emotions reflect emotional capacities such as empathy and the ability to comprehend another’s emotional state, and moral reasoning refers to the discernment and application of moral principles.

Read our Virtue Insight blog, which introduces this project.

While there is a general consensus that these factors play a role in motivating moral behaviour (with the empirical evidence strongly supporting the first two), it remains unclear how these factors relate to each other and how important they are in predicting moral behaviour, particularly in relation to moral development. In addition, moral reasoning tends to be equated and measured using Neo-Kohlbergian methods, which from an Aristotelian perspective does not necessarily reflect the reasoning suggested by phronesis  (practical wisdom) which emphasises the ability to integrate and adjudicate moral conflicts.

The project will therefore seek to address the following questions:

  • What motivates virtuous behaviour in adolescents? Is it moral emotion, moral identity or moral reasoning? Or a combination of all three factors?
  • How do these factors develop between early and late adolescence?
  • Does the moral reasoning associated with phronesis  better predict virtuous moral behaviour and does it help to integrate the existing factors?
  • Can these factors be cultivated to enhance moral development, e.g. through school-based interventions?

This research will involve a mixed methods approach using questionnaires, dilemma based tasks, Experience Sampling Methods (ESM), as well as the development of a new phronesis  measure.

If you have any questions about this project, please contact Dr. Catherine Darnell.

Download a copy of this summary by clicking the grey image at the top.