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    Providing tools for ethical character development


    Guide for using the Moral Theme Inventory


     Version 2.0

Darcia Narvaez and Tonia Bock

    Department of Psychology

    University of Notre Dame

    Notre Dame, Indiana 46556

January 2001; Revision: March, 2010

    __________________________________________________________________________ ?Copyright 2001, Darcia Narvaez, All Rights Reserved.


    Testing children for their moral thinking is difficult because of their relatively limited language, experience, and abstract thinking skills. The Moral Theme Inventory provides a measure of moral development that can be used with young subjects. A multiple-choice approach can identify broad developmental differences in moral thinking among children and moral text comprehension can be used to measure these differences. This approach enables us to have some means of relating the performances of children and adults.

What is the Moral Theme Inventory?

    The Moral Theme Inventory consists of four stories about moral dilemmas. Each story presents aspects of ethical sensitivity, judgment, motivation, and action. These are the four psychological processes or components necessary for completing an ethical action (see Narvaez & Rest, 1995, or Narvaez, Endicott, Bock, & Mitchell, 2000). Each story has a complex moral message. After a story is read, there are four tasks that measure theme comprehension: (1) the rating of each of seven or eight theme choices for how well they match the theme of the original story (using a 5-point Likert-type scale); (2) selection of the two theme choices that best match the theme of the original story; (3) the rating of four vignettes for how close each one’s theme match the original story’s theme; (4) selection of the vignette that best match the theme of the original story. Ten true-false questions about the story are used to measure reading comprehension and were used as a covariate in the analyses.

Participant Tasks

    In the full test, there are four stories and five tasks after each story. Participants read along while an audio tape recording is played. After each story, the participants do the following.

(1) True-False Comprehension Questions. The participants answer 10 questions about each story. Some of the

    statements are (a) facts that took place in the story, (b) factual statements that did not take place in the story (c) inferences a good reader would make while reading the story (d) incorrect inferences that a good reader would not make during the story.

    (2) Vignette Rating. Participants rate four vignettes for how close each one’s theme matched the original story’s theme. A five-point Likert-type scale is used. There is one vignette with the same theme, one with the same actions, one with the same characters and one with the same setting. Unlike in the message-choice task described below, the vignette rating task measures a more implicit understanding of the theme because the theme was not specified.

    (3) Vignette Choice. Participants select the vignette that best matched the theme of the original story. This task also measures a more implicit understanding of the story by not requiring a word-based understanding of the themes.

    (4) Message Rating. Participants rate each of seven or eight messages for how well they match the theme of the original story (using a 5-point Likert-type scale). There are messages that represent Stage-1 Kohlbergian thinking, Stage-2 Kohlbergian thinking, Stage-3 Kohlbergian thinking, a collectivistic orientation, and a complex word statement that is not the theme. The message rating task measures a recognition-type of theme comprehension.

    (5) Message Choices. Then participants select the two message choices that best match the theme of the original story from the list of choices just rated. This task measures their preference for presented themes.

     Page 3

MTI Scoring

Reading Comprehension.

    Reading comprehension can be used as a covariate your analysis. Using the key for true-false questions, determine which responses are correct and incorrect. Assign 0 to each incorrect response and assign 1 to each correct response. For Reading Comprehension Total add together the correct answers to the set of ten true-false questions across stories (range is 0 to 40).

Moral Theme Comprehension Scores.

Assign values to all vignette ratings and message ratings as follows:

    Very Different = 1, Different = 2, So-so = 3, Same = 4, Very much the same = 5

Assign values to vignette choice and message choice items (see Key for correct and incorrect choices):

    Correct choice = 1, Incorrect choice = 0

    (1) Vignette rating task, adjusted ratings for the correct vignette choice (VIGNETTE RATING; possible range per story=-12 to 12). The adjusted ratings are computed by subtracting the rating for a distractor (incorrect) item from the rating for the correct vignette choice (see Key for incorrect and correct items). The adjusted scores for each distractor are then added to get the Vignette Rating score per story. Add the four Vignette Ratings across stories for the Vignette Rating Total. Example for California:

(CalVignetteARating-CalVignetteBRating) + (CalVignetteARating-CalVignetteCRating) + (CalVignetteARating-

    CalVignetteDRating) = Cal Vignette Rating

    (2) Vignette selection task. Compute the total of correct vignette choices by adding the scores for correct vignette choice (1=correct, 0=incorrect) across stories (VIGNETTE CHOICE TOTAL). For each story, a subject will have a score of 1 or 0.

CalVignetteChoice + JedVignetteChoice + MalVignetteChoice + KimVignetteChoice = Vignette Choice Total

    (3) Message rating task, adjusted ratings for the correct message choices (MESSAGE RATING; possible range for Kim, Jed, Cal=-24 to 24, for Mal = -28-28 ). The adjusted ratings are computed by subtracting the rating for a distractor (incorrect) item from the rating for the theme choice choice (see Key for incorrect and correct items). The adjusted scores for each distractor are then added to get the Message Rating per story. Add the four Message Ratings scores across stories for the Message Rating Total.

(4) Message selection task. Compute the total of correct message choices (MESSAGE CHOICE TOTAL) by

    adding the number of theme choices across stories (2 possible from each story). For each story, a subject will have a score of 2, 1, or 0.

    (5) Composite Score. The four basic scores are added together for a composite score (VIGNETTE RATING TOTAL + VIGNETTE CHOICE TOTAL + MESSAGE RATING TOTAL + MESSAGE CHOICE TOTAL =

    COMPOSITE THEME COMPREHENSION) indicating overall moral theme comprehension. Per story, the range of scores can be 36 to 39 (except Malcolm, -40 to 43). The scores for all four stories can range from

    148 to 160.*

    Copyright ? Darcia Narvaez, 2010

    *(PLEASE NOTE: The ranges are slightly different from the Narvaez et al (1999) article but the statistical results are the same.)

Reliability and Validity

    Reading Comprehension: In Narvaez et al (1999), Cronbach alpha reliability for the reading comprehension score (n=40) was .81.

    Composite Score: In Narvaez et al (1999), the reliability of the composite score of theme tasks (across four stories and four tasks) using Cronbach alpha was .89.

Group Comparisons

    In Narvaez et al. (1999), these were the scores that were found for 8-9 year olds (third grade), 10-11 year olds (fifth grade) and adults (20-40 year olds).

    Means, Standard Deviations, and F with Covariate for Combination Variables (Adjusted Scores): Vignette Choice, Thematic Story Rating, Message Choice, Message Rating, Composite of Four Variables (Composite Theme Comprehension Score).


     3rd grade 5th grade Adults F F

     (n=50) (n=54) (n=28) (with reading


     as covariate)


1.Vignette choice .44 (.64) 1.81 (1.67) 3.64 (.56) 118.74* 57.18*

    2.Vignette rating -2.57 (3.17) 3.76 (3.75) 9.22 (2.86) 116.52* 65.99*

    3.Message choice 2.72 (1.51) 4.67 (1.26) 6.00 (.86) 63.28* 25.43*

    4.Message rating 2.74 (2.95) 5.74 (2.40) 8.32 (2.01) 45.73* 86.82*

    Composite of 4 3.31 (6.04) 15.99 (7.00) 27.19 (4.98) 135.62* 74.65*


    * p < .0001


    You are welcome to use the MTI for research purposes at no cost. Please send us your results so we can include them in this guide.

The story protocol is at the end of this guide. Feel free to make copies.

    The audio versions of the stories (recommended for testing children under 12) are at my website:

The spss syntax for scoring the MTI is also at my website.

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Procedure for using the MTI

    1. Contact Darcia Narvaez to request permission to use the MTI.

    2. Prepare your testing procedure. You will enough copies of the test for your participants. If you are

    testing children under 12, download the audio files (at my website: for the instructions and each story and use them for

    collecting data.

    3. Set aside about 50 minutes for each pair of stories you will administer.

    4. Participants will need a pencil and no distractions.

    5. In your introduction, inform the participants that the tape moves slowly enough for younger children

    to follow.

    6. Play each tape, beginning with the Instructions audio file.

    We suggest this order of stories: Kim, Jed, Malcolm, California

    7. Once you have collected the data, enter the data as described in this guide.

    8. Score the data using the SPSS syntax provided at the website

    ( Or use the scoring key in the appendix.


    We do not give permission for any parts of the test or scoring instructions to be published. Those using the inventory for dissertations and theses may request permission to attach a copy of the test to their manuscript. Please ask for a letter of permission to do so from the address on the cover.

Must all 4 stories be used?

    There is preliminary data to suggest that results might be similar when only Kim and Jed are used. More data need to be collected before any recommendations can be made. We encourage researchers to try different numbers and combinations of stories.

    Please keep us informed of your findings!

    We would like to include them here.

    Copyright ? Darcia Narvaez, 2010


Narvaez, D., Gleason, T., Mitchell, C. & Bentley, J. (1999). Moral Theme Comprehension in Children. Journal of Educational


    Narvaez, D., Endicott, L., & Bock, T., & Mitchell, C. (1999). Nurturing Character in the Middle School Classroom: A Guidebook for ndTeachers, 2 Edition. Minnesota: Department of Children, Families, and Learning. Narvaez, D. & Rest, J. (1995). The four components of acting morally. In W. Kurtines & J. Gewirtz (Eds.), Moral behavior and moral

    development: An introduction (pp. 385-400). New York: McGraw-Hill.


Scoring for True False Items

California Malcolm Jed Kim

1. True 1. False 1. False 1. False

    2. False 2. True 2. False 2. True

    3. False 3. False 3. True 3. False

    4. False 4. False 4. True 4. False

    5. False 5. True 5. True 5.True

    6. True 6. False 6. False 6. False

    7. True 7. True 7. True 7. False

    8. True 8. False 8. False 8. False

    9. True 9. True 9. False 9. True

    10. True 10. True 10. True 10. True

Scoring for Story Vignettes

California Malcolm Jed Kim

    A. Same Theme A. Same Actions A. Same Characters A. Same Setting B. Same Characters B. Same Characters B. Same Actions B. Same Theme

    C. Same Setting C. Same Theme C. Same Setting C. Same Characters D. Same Actions D. Same Setting D. Same Theme D. Same Actions

Scoring for Message Choices

California Malcolm Jed Kim

    1. Stage 1 1. Theme 1. Stage 1 1. Stage 3 2. Stage 3 2. Big Word 2. Stage 3 2. Stage 2 3. Stage 2 3. Stage 1 3. Theme 3. Ingroup 4. Big Word 4. Ingroup 4. Ingroup 4. Big Word 5. Ingroup 5. Theme 5. Big Word 5. Theme

    6. Theme 6. Stage 2 6. Stage 2 6. Stage 1 7. Theme 7. Stage 3 7. Theme 7. Theme

     8. Stage 2

     Page 7



    PARTICIPANT NUMBER_______________

    Copyright ? Darcia Narvaez, 2010

We are interested in finding out what you think about four stories, two today and two next time. We will be playing a tape of someone reading each story as you read along. After reading each story, we will ask you to think about the most important moral message of the story. Then we will ask you questions about the story. Let's go through an example of what you will do. First, you will follow a story while a tape of it is being played. Second, we will ask you some questions to answer on your own. Here is the example.

     The Monkey and the Rabbit

     Long ago in the deep jungle, Monkey and Rabbit were sharing a meal. Monkey was feasting on ripe yellow bananas while Rabbit munched on juicy green leaves. While they ate, each practiced the habits most natural to him. Monkey scratched; first his head, then his chest, then his arms and, of course, his legs. He scratched and scratched during the entire meal. While Monkey scratched, Rabbit turned his head; first to the right, then to the left, then behind him, and then above. He was on the lookout for an enemy attack, and all through the meal he could not keep still.

     Finally Monkey said, "Please stop turning away from me when I'm talking. It's not polite." "Look who's complaining about good manners," said Rabbit. "You've been scratching the whole time. Scratching is more impolite than looking for enemies."

     Then they decided to make a bet. The Monkey would stop scratching and the Rabbit would stop looking around. The one who moved first would have to feed the other for a week.

     So they sat facing each other, and for a few minutes it was easy. But as time went by, staying still became harder and harder. Monkey itched so badly that he felt like screaming! Rabbit was so frightened of his enemies that he was trembling! Finally Monkey suggested that they tell each other stories to pass the time.

     Monkey started to tell about when he got separated from his mother as an infant and nearly got killed. First he was hit by a branch on the head; then he ran into a bee's nest and got stung all over; and then he fell and hurt his leg. As he told each part of the story, he scratched the places where he got hurt. It felt so good to scratch.

     Rabbit realized that Monkey was trying to trick him and said, "Now I'll tell you a story." He told about the night he watched his brothers and sisters while his mother was out. It was so dark that every sound made him jump. As he described the sounds, he turned his head to look in the direction of the sound he had heard.

     Monkey began laughing when he realized what Rabbit was doing. Then Rabbit began to laugh. They decided to call off the bet and to be friends with each other as they were.

     Take a moment to think about the message of this story. What do you think the author would like you to learn about getting along with others? Think about what would be the best lesson from this story about getting along with others.

     The researchers think that the best message of this story is "Accept others as they are."

     Page 9


    First, we will ask you some True-False questions about the story. Circle "True" if the statement is true about the story or circle "False" if the statement is false about the story. Answer these questions without looking back at the story.

True False 1. Monkey and Rabbit were enemies.

    True False 2. Rabbit was never afraid.

    Next, please read the following three stories. As you read each one, you will decide how well its message matches the best message from "The Monkey and the Rabbit" and you

    will mark your answer below the story.

Story A

     Deep in the jungle lived two good friends, a pig and a bird. The pig worked very hard to find food. All day the pig snorted and sniffed around for fruits to eat. The pig was a messy eater. She usually left scraps of fruit around after finishing a meal. Unlike the pig, the bird did not have to work hard to find food. She simply followed the pig and nibbled on the scraps the pig left behind. The pig did not mind that the bird ate the scraps of food that she had worked so hard to get. Why? Because the bird kept the pig company all day and sang as the pig sniffed out their next meal.

; ;

    Very much About So-so Different Very

    the same the same different

Story B

     Rover was a family dog. He was the only pet in the house and loved his lazy days of sleeping on the front porch. Then one day the family brought home a kitten. The kitten loved to run around and play all day. Rover could no longer sleep on the porch because the kitten was always playing there. The kitten didn't like Rover because he would just lay around and not play with her. The kitten wished that Rover was more playful and Rover wished the kitten would take more naps. One day the Kitten went to the doctor for a checkup. While she was gone, Rover missed her and she missed Rover. When she got back, Rover wasn't so upset with her playing and she didn't mind so much his napping.

; ;

    Very much About So-so Different Very

    the same the same different

    Copyright ? Darcia Narvaez, 2010

Story C

     In the reptile house at the zoo, there lived a snake and a lizard. One day they shared a meal. The snake ate worms and the lizard ate green bugs. They made a bet about who could eat the most. While they ate, they talked about their lives when they were young. Lizard laughed at Snake's stories and Snake laughed at Lizard's stories. When they were finished eating, they couldn't figure out who had eaten more so they went off to play.

; ;

    Very much About So-so Different Very

    the same the same different

    Next you will mark which of the three stories above has a message that most closely matches the best message of "The Monkey and the Rabbit."

Circle the title: Story A Story B Story C

     Story B is circled because it has the same message, "Accept others as they are" as does

    "The Monkey and the Rabbit."

    Next, we will present several messages that people have suggested to be the message of "The Monkey and the Rabbit." You will mark how good a match each message is with what you think is the best message of "The Monkey and the Rabbit."

1. Don't try to change others.

    ; ;

    Very much About So-so Different Very

    the same the same different

2. Be alert, you may get tricked.

    ; ;

    Very much About So-so Different Very

    the same the same different

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