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Why a true account of human development requires exemplar research

Publication Authors: 
William Damon and Anne Colby
Publication Year: 
Publication Journal: 
In M. K. Matsuba, P. E. King, & K. C. Bronk (Eds.), Exemplar methods and research: Strategies for investigation. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 142, 13–25..

This chapter uses moral psychology to illustrate why exemplar methods are essential for building a valid, complete understanding of key domains of human development. Social psychological, economic, and biological-evolutionary paradigms for studying morality rely on samples drawn from the general population. This research reveals a bleak picture of morality, highlighting its irrational, self-interested, externally controlled aspects. If the subjects in these studies are confused, pliable, or profit-maximizing, these studies conclude that people in general are morally irrational and self-interested. In contrast, studies that investigate morally exceptional individuals reveal a more thoughtful, ideal-driven, self-reflective, creative version of moral functioning. Any account that neglects this high-functioning segment of the range is seriously misleading and cannot provide the basis for aspiration or education.