10 Conventional Morality Examples (Kohlberg’s Theory)

10 Conventional Morality Examples (Kohlberg’s Theory)Reviewed By Chris Drew (PhD)
➡️ Video Lesson
➡️ Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Kohlberg’s theory of moral development suggests that people go through three main stages of moral development as they grow: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional.

Each stage is more complex and considers the motives behind actions and the social implications of decisions.

Conventional morality comes after preconventional and before postconventional morality:

  • Preconventional morality ages: Up to ages 9-10
  • Conventional morality ages: Ages 10-15
  • Post conventional morality ages: Ages 15 and up
➡️ The Conventional Morality Stage

Definition of Conventional Morality

Conventional morality is level 2 in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. It begins around the age of 10 or 11 years old and lasts until the age of 15.

In the conventional morality stage, the child is becoming more oriented toward social acceptance and following the definition of morality as prescribed by society.

Adolescents begin to internalize those definitions and adopt them as their own.

This is also a period of time when definitions of morality can come from role models and various social groups, which may or may not be the same as those from the broader society.

This can become a point of internal conflict when there is a disparity between the rules of a particular social group and the rules of society.

➡️ Sub-Stages of Conventional Morality

Sub-Stages of Conventional Morality

There are two sub-stages of moral reasoning within the conventional stage.

Sub-Stage 1: Good Interpersonal Relationships

In this sub-stage, a person’s morality is influenced by their desire to receive social approval from others. 

Morality-related decision-making is considered in the context of interpersonal relationships and how one’s actions will affect those relations. Winning the approval of key role models is paramount.

This stage is also characterized by a more complex analysis of a given situation. The cognitive development of teenagers allows for a deeper understanding of other people’s intentions and motives.

This results in a complex analysis and understanding that was previously quite limited.

Sub-Stage 2: Maintaining Social Order

At this stage, individuals begin to give greater consideration to the broader needs of society rather than solely focused on receiving approval from others.

The focus is on ensuring that social order is supported through one’s actions. A person is good because they respect society and participate in a positive and constructive manner.

In later writings, Kohlberg stated that this stage did not become the dominant way of thinking for most people until reaching their 20s and even 30s.

➡️ Study Card
conventional morality examples and definition, explained below

Conventional Morality Examples

1. Being the Teacher’s Pet

teacher's pet

Obtaining the approval of role models is an essential concern in the conventional morality stage.

This can be readily observed in many middle school classrooms as some students strive to win the approval of their favorite teacher.

Offering to help at every opportunity or reminding the teacher to collect homework are common behaviors.   

2. Feeling Pressure to Cheat

a student cheating in an exam

Depending on the social group, there may exist a great deal of pressure to cheat on a school exam.

The consequences of refusing to cheat, or help others cheat, can mean disapproval from valued members of a social group. Non-compliance can lead to being rejected from the group and ostracized by others.

This is an example of the kind of conflict that can exist in the conventional morality stage. Individuals are confronted with the conflicting demands of key figures in their life.

3. Exploring Fashion Choices to ‘Fit in’

boys trying on fashion items

Conventional morality begins during the pre-teen years and continues into adolescence. This can be a time when young people experiment with different styles of clothing.

Some of those choices may be questionable in the eyes of parents and teachers.

However, the dominant influence at this age comes from social groups. Therefore, children may make fashion choices that are objectionable by some.

The key consideration as to what is morally acceptable, or not, is defined by the social group.

4. Volunteering  for Social Status

a person volunteering

Some people volunteer in order to gain and maintain their social appearance.

Of course, usually, we would think a person volunteers out of a deep sense of the importance of the task itself (that would be postconventional).

But if the only reason you volunteer is to look good, then you’re stuck in the conventional stage of morality.

5. Agreeing with Popular Opinions to Avoid Conflict

friends laughing

Some individuals may publicly agree with popular or majority opinions in discussions, especially on controversial topics, simply to avoid conflict or to be liked by others.

This action, guided by a desire for social harmony rather than personal conviction, fits into conventional morality. You’re not agreeing with the opinions out of deep conviction after critical thinking and reflection – you’re doing it for social reasons.

6. Obeying Rules Only in Presence of Authority

police holding stop sign

Someone might follow rules strictly when under direct supervision or in visible settings but might not adhere to the same rules when alone.

This behavior, driven by a desire to be seen as compliant rather than an understanding of the rules’ importance, aligns with conventional morality.

7. Sharing Posts on Social Media for Likes

social media app

Engaging in social media activities, like sharing content that aligns with what is popular or trending, solely to gain likes or approval from others, is another manifestation of conventional morality.

We might pejoratively call this “online activism”.

The primary goal here is to bolster social standing rather than share genuine interests or beliefs.

8. Paying Taxes to do your Social Duty

lady doing taxes

Paying taxes is never pleasant and most people would avoid the grueling process if they could. But many of us pay taxes because we believe it helps maintain society.

Remember, from Kohlberg’s perspective, it’s not the act that counts so much as the reasoning. If you pay taxes because you don’t want to get caught, that’s one thing.

If you pay taxes because it helps maintain social order by funding law enforcement and building infrastructure, that is completely different. Paying taxes because it is a social obligation that maintains order is moral reasoning at stage 4.

9. Littering in a Group Setting

people littering

When someone chooses to litter because their peers are doing it, they’re acting under the influence of conventional morality.

This action is motivated by the desire to blend in or not stand out negatively within the group. It shows a prioritization of social cohesion over personal or environmental ethics.

10. Praising a Boss’s Idea for Favor

woman and man laughing

An employee might praise an idea proposed by their boss, not because they genuinely agree with it, but because they want to be viewed favorably.

This type of behavior is typical of conventional morality, where the approval and positive perception of authority figures are valued more than honest expression.

Such actions can foster an environment where genuine feedback is suppressed in favor of apparent agreement.

➡️ Piaget’s Stages at Same Age

Piaget’s Stages at Same Age

Piaget’s stage of autonomous morality is most similar to Kohlberg’s conventional level. 

Piaget used the term moral relativism to highlight the key feature of a child’s reasoning that there is no absolute right and wrong. Children begin to recognize that the determination of what is moral or not depends on intentions, not just consequences.

According to Piaget, around the age of 8 or 9, children escape the confines of egocentrism and are now able to see situations from the perspective of others.

This allows for an understanding of intention. Therefore, doing something wrong, but with good intentions, should not always lead to punishment.

As children grow out of egocentrism, they also begin to realize that rules can be arbitrary. Rules are not absolutes, but they can and should change, depending on specific circumstances.

This kind of understanding represents a gradual progression into Kohlberg’s next level of moral reasoning, the postconventional level.

➡️ References and Further Reading


Kohlberg, L. (1958). The Development of Modes of Thinking and Choices in Years 10 to 16. Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Chicago.

Lapsley, D. K. (2006). Moral stage theory. In Handbook of moral development (pp. 55-84). Psychology Press.

Malti, T., Gasser, L., & Buchmann, M. (2009). Aggressive and prosocial children’s emotion attributions and moral reasoning. Aggressive Behavior, 35(1), 90–102. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.20289Piaget, J. (1932). The moral judgment of the child. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co.

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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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