Social and Moral Reasoning of High School Athletes and Non-Athletes

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Human Performance and Recreation

First Advisor

Dennis Phillips

Advisor Department

Human Performance and Recreation


The purpose of this study was to investigate high school athletes and non-athletes sportsmanship attitudes through moral and social reasoning. The researcher examined the relationship between the different reasoning and variables of gender, status (athletes and non-athletes), grade level, socioeconomic status, academic ability, types of sport, and years of participation. Two hundred twenty-five student-athletes and non-athletes in grades nine, ten, eleven, and twelve served as participants in the study. Nine research questions were presented and tested using multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare means within significant differences in the MANOVA. To confirm the significance of each research question, p ≤ .05 was applied. A statistically significant difference was found for gender. Females scored higher than the males on the moral character index scale. There was a significant difference found for status. Athletes scored higher than the non-athletes on the social character index scale. However, the non-athletes scored higher than the athletes on the moral index scale. There was a significant difference in moral reasoning among the types of sport played by the athletes. The mean score for cheerleaders was higher than the mean scores of athletes who participated in soccer, basketball, football, and baseball. There was a statistically significant difference found among sport years on the moral character index. Athletes who participated 1-4 years scored higher on the moral index than athletes who participated 11-12 years. There was a significant difference found for social and moral reasoning scores of athletes and non-athletes based on academic ability. Athletes and non-athletes who were very high achievers scored higher on the moral character index than athletes and non-athletes who reported averages of a B, C, or D. Consequently, high achieving students used less level of social reasoning. The socioeconomic disadvantaged males scored higher than the socioeconomic advantaged males on the social character index. Education personnel are expressing concerns about unsportsmanlike behaviors that are taking place within the high school sport milieu. Kohlberg (1984) emphasized that moral reasoning is the root, at least in part, of moral behavior. Therefore as a result of investigating high school student moral and social reasoning, administrators and sport personnel can begin developing intervention programs that promote moral and social character.