Moral Reasoning in Athlete Populations- a 30 Year Review


We have been studying moral reasoning and moral education intervention programs in athletic populations for 30 years, with a data base of approximately 90,000 individuals.  Below find what we know about the process of moral reasoning and its effect on moral development.


        1.  Athlete populations score significantly lower on moral reasoning inventories than do non-athlete populations.


        2.  Male revenue producing sport athletes score significantly lower than non-revenue producing sport athletes do.


        3.  Females score significantly higher than males, either revenue producing or non-revenue producing.


        4.  Females scores are dropping and we predict they will converge with men's scores in 5 years.


        5.  Longitudinal studies of discrete competitive populations drop over a four-year period whether high school or college.


        6.  Moral reasoning scores of non-intervened athletic populations are decreasing at significant rates.


        7.  The longer one is in athletics, the more affected is one’s moral reasoning. 


        8.  Intervention programs can have a positive effect on moral reasoning.


        9.  Effective intervention programs have a long-term effect on moral reasoning.


      10.  Moral reasoning is one facet of a highly complex process of moral development.



Female Student Athletes' Moral Reasoning 1987-2012


Sharon Kay Stoll, Ph.D.

Professor, Director

The Center for ETHICS*

University of Idaho

Jennifer M. Beller, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Washington State University

Affiliate Faculty, University of Idaho


  1. 90,000 individuals evaluated with the Hahm-Beller Values Choice Inventory (HBVCI): 15,000 female athletes in 35 studies.


  1. Most HBVCI studies have found male team sport athletes score significantly lower than individual sport athletes.


  1. Most HBVCI studies have found that female team sport athletes score significantly lower than their non-competitive peers.


  1. Female team sport athletes are becoming more morally calloused: lack of respect, honor, and dignity toward fellow competitors, teammates, rules, and the spirit of the rules.


  1. A trend exists that female athletes’ moral reasoning scores are lowering. Scores from 1987-1990 = high 60s; 1991-1993 = mid 60s; 1994-1997 = low 60s , 1997-2005 = low 50s (on a scale of 21-105) (Hahm, 1989; Beller, 1990; Beller & Stoll, 1995; Beller, Stoll, Burwell, & Cole, 1996; Stoll & Beller, 1191, 1992, 1994, 1997).


  1. Results on male athletes’ moral reasoning have been fairly consistent – the longer they participate in sport, the more morally calloused they become – the same appears to e happening with female athletes, especially team sport athletes.  It appears that female athletes, especially team sport athletes.  It appears that female athletes are being socialized into the current capitalistic, commodified model of moral callousness – less of a concern for others and more of a concern for self.


  1. Scores in the mid 50s and low 60s reflect reasoning perspectives that a typical junior high school student would reason from: What’s in it for me; What it takes now to win; What someone tells me is right; little of no concern for others.  Scores in the high 60s and above reflect reasoning that takes into account social order principles.


  1. Women have the equal right to participate in athletics and receive the benefits of that participation i.e. health, the self-respect to be gained by doing one’s best, the cooperation to be learned from working with teammates and the incentive gained from having opponents, the “character” of learning to be a good loser and a good winner, the chance to improve one’s skill and learn to accept criticism – and just plain fun (English, 1978).


  1. Carol Gilligan, Chair of the Women’s Studies Program at Harvard University, in “ In a Different Voice” (1982) holds that there is a voice intrinsically related to other people, the ethic of care.  While the ethic of care is not specific to one gender, she states that females have  supposed greater concern for personal relationships, care, and nurturing.  Her model is based on an anthropological & sociological history of how women perceive themselves to be different than men and men perceive women to be different than men.


  1. Although Gilligan’s care-giving, nurturing model was not formulated at the time, the DGWS, NAGWS, and the AIAW models were based on a care-giving nurturing approach to girls’ and womens’ participation in sport.  In 1980, when women began participation in championships under the auspices of the NCAA guidance, the care-giving , nurturing model was replaced by one without a clear philosophic foundation, one that is more capitalistic commodified, than educative (Chu, 1989; Sage, 1986; Hoberman, 1984; Sperber, 1990; Gibson, 1993).


  1. It is not participation in the current implementation of Title IX that is of concern, but rather how the current competitive model is being managed and its concomitant effects on women and their care-giving and nurturing natures.


  1. Title IX may not be the savior for women participating in sport, that so many believe it to be.  The authors are not so naïve as to believe that this movement will be abrogated by research.  “The wagon is loaded, the horses are hitched, and WE are going to the promised land.”  We argue that the promised land does not appear to be “Beulah land” or “Nirvana”’ it could well be “Hades.”


  1. In our zeal to be equal and our desire to have girls and women enjoy the same sport opportunities as men, quite possibly we have not adequately examined the entire picture of the current competitive model and suffer a blindness to the hard, real facts.


  1. Kant states that things either have dignity or they have a price – perhaps we have sold our dignity.  Perhaps women have sold out the best part of themselves to the current competitive, male-dominated, capitalistic commodified sport arena.  As such, we may be lesser for it.


  1. If we are at all concerned about the nature of women and their mental, physical, and social growth through sports, we as parents, coaches, teachers, professors, administrators, and media must challenge the status quo and DEMAND changes in governance and management of the current competitive model.


  1. Administrators of any athletic program should be governed by the premise that rules, justice, and obligation should “…be a critical friend that does not get in the way of good judgment” (Peters, 1997).  Empathy, respect, for others, and honor should be the foundation.




Beller, J.M. (1990). A moral reasoning intervention program for Division I athletes: Can athletes learn to not cheat? Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Idaho, ID.


Beller, J.M., & Stoll, S.K. (1992, (Spring). A moral reasoning intervention program for Division I athletes. Academic Athletic Journal, 43-57.


Beller, J.M., & Stoll, S.K. (1995, November). Moral development of high school athletes. Journal of Pediatric Science, 7(4), 352-363.


Beller, J.M., Stoll, S.K., Burwell, B., & Cole, J. (1996). The relationship of competition and a Christian liberal arts education on moral reasoning of college student athletes. Research on Christian Higher Education, 3, 99-114.


Chu, D. (1989). The character of American higher education and intercollegiate sport. New York: State University of New York Press.


English, J. (1978). Sex equality in sports. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 7(3), 269-277.


Gibson, J.H. (1993). Performance versus results. Albany: State University of New York Press.


Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Hahm, C.H. (1989). Moral reasoning and moral development among general students, physical education majors, and student athletes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Idaho, Moscow, ID.


Hoberman, J. (1984). Mortal engines: The science of performance and the dehumanization of sport. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.


Peters, A. (1997, September). Sport science and gender: Towards a feminist perspective of sport science. Presentation to the international Philosophic Society for the Study of Sport’s annual convention, Oslo, Norway.


Sage, G.H. (1986). The intercollegiate sport cartel and its consequences for athletes. In R.E. Lapchick (Ed.). Fractured focus. Lexington Books, 45-51.


Sperber, M. (1990). College sports inc. New York: Henry Holt Pub.


Stoll, S.K. & Beller, J.M. (1991). [Moral reasoning of intercollegiate athletes I]. Unpublished raw data.


Stoll, S.K. & Beller, J.M. (1992). [Moral reasoning of intercollegiate athletes II]. Unpublished raw data.


Stoll, S.K. & Beller, J.M. (1994). [Moral reasoning of intercollegiate athletes III]. Unpublished raw data.


Stoll, S.K. & Beller, J.M. (1997). [Moral reasoning of intercollegiate athletes IV]. Unpublished raw data.