Medicine & USMLE

Preconventional Morality

Kohlberg Moral Development
  1. Preconventional Morality
  2. Conventional Morality
  3. Postconventional Morality


The Preconventional stage is the first stage in Kohlberg’s model of moral development. In this stage, morality is governed by self-interest, and people use a selfish cost-benefit analysis to judge the morality of their actions. They seek rewards and obey social rules only to avoid punishment. This stage is usually seen in young children, but older individuals can be in this stage as well.

Key Points

  • Preconventional Morality
    • Morality is determined by selfish cost-benefit
      • People seek to minimize punishment and maximize rewards.
    • Typically seen in young children
      • Kohlberg did not assign ages to his moral stages, but preconventional morality is typically seen in young children
    • Obedience and Punishment
      • Avoiding punishment by authority guides morals
    • Self Interest (Instrumental Purpose)
      • Expect equal exchange to further self-interest, seek to maximize rewards