The DIT and DIT-2
A common assumption in the field of morality, and one with which we disagree, is that reliable information about the inner processes that underlie moral behavior is obtained only by interviewing subjects. Contrary to assuming that interviewing presents a clear window into the moral mind, researchers in cognitive science and social cognition contend that self-reported explanations of one’s own cognitive process have severe limitations. There is now a greater appreciation for the importance of implicit processes and tacit knowledge on human decision making, outside the awareness of the subject and beyond his or her ability to verbally articulate them. The DIT takes a different approach to information collection.
The DIT is a device for activating moral schemas (to the extent that a person has developed them) and for assessing these schemas in terms of importance judgments. The DIT has dilemmas and standard items, and the subject’s task is to rate and rank the items in terms of their moral importance. As the subject encounters an item that both makes sense and also taps into the subject’s preferred schema, that item is rated and ranked as highly important. Alternatively, when the subject encounters an item that either doesn’t make sense or seems simplistic and unconvincing, the item receives a low rating and is passed over for the next item. The items of the DIT balance “bottom-up” processing (stating just enough of a line of argument to activate a schema) with “top-down” processing (not a full line of argument so that the subject has to “fill in” the meaning from an existing schema). In the DIT, we are interested in knowing which schemas the subject brings to the task. Presumably, those are the schemas that structure and guide the subject’s thinking in decision making beyond the test situation.
Validity for the DIT has been assessed in terms of seven criteria cited in over 400 published articles (Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma, 1999; Thoma, 2002; Thoma, 2006)
- Differentiation of various age/education groups: Studies of large composite samples (thousands of subjects) show that 30% to 50% of the variance of DIT scores is attributable to level of education in samples ranging from junior-high education to Ph.D.’s
- Longitudinal gains: A 10-year longitudinal study shows significant gains of men and women, of college-attenders and non-college subjects, and people from diverse walks of life. A review of a dozen studies of freshman to senior college students (n=755) shows effect sizes of .80 (“large” gains). DIT gains are one of the most dramatic longitudinal gains in college of any measured developmental variable.
- DIT scores are significantly related to cognitive capacity measures of Moral Comprehension (r = .60), to the recall and reconstruction of Postconventional moral arguments, to Kohlberg’s measure, and (to a lesser degree) to other cognitive-developmental measures.
- DIT scores are sensitive to moral education interventions: One review of over 50 intervention studies reports an effect size for dilemma discussion interventions to be .40 (moderate gains) while the effect size for comparison groups was only .09 (small gains).
- DIT scores are significantly linked to many prosocial behaviors and to desired professional decision making. One review reports that 37 out of 47 measures were statistically significant (see also Rest & Narvaez, 1994, for a discussion of professional decision making).
- DIT scores are significantly linked to political attitudes and political choices. In a review of several dozen correlates with political attitudes, DIT scores typically correlate in the range of r = .40 to .65. When combined in multiple regression with measures of cultural ideology, the combination predicts up to two-thirds of the variance of controversial public policy issues (such as abortion, religion in the public schools, women’s roles, rights of the accused, rights of homosexuals, free speech issues).
- Reliability–Cronbach’s alpha is in the upper .70s / low .80s. Test-retest reliability is about the same.
Further, DIT scores show discriminant validity from verbal ability/general intelligence and from Conservative/Liberal political attitudes. That is, the information in a DIT score predicts to the seven validity criteria above and beyond that accounted for by verbal ability/general intelligence or political attitudes (Thoma, Narvaez, Rest & Derryberry, 1999). Moreover, the DIT is equally valid for males and females (Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma, 1999).