Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System

How to Score Anything

Michael Lamport Commons, Harvard Medical School; Dorothy Danaher, Patrice Marie Miller, & Eric Andrew Goodheart, Harvard University.

Commons, M. L., Danaher-Gilpin, D., Miller, P. M., & Goodheart, E. A.. (2002). Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System: How to Score Anything. Unpublished Scoring Manual Available from Dare Institute, Commons@tiac.net 

© 1991-2002 Dare Association, Inc. Cambridge, MA 02138


     The Model of Hierarchical Complexity presents a framework for scoring reasoning stages in any domain as well as in any cross cultural setting. The scoring is based not upon the content or the subject material, but instead on the mathematical complexity of hierarchical organization of information. The subject’s performance on a task of a given complexity represents the stage of developmental complexity. This paper presents an elaboration of the concepts underlying the Model of Hierarchical Complexity (MHC), the description of the stages, steps involved in universal stage transition, as well as examples of several scoring samples using the MHC as a scoring aid.


     Ever since the introduction of the idea that development proceeds in discrete stages, scientists have argued over the framework for defining and analyzing such stages. Many models were presented to conceptualize development, including the mentalistic theory of Jean Piaget (1954), a pioneer in the field of developmental psychology. Though Piaget’s theory did not define all stages precisely, it clearly established that there is one invariant pathway along which stage development proceeds irrespective of content or culture (Piaget, 1976). Other developmental models followed Piaget’s, and each usually focused on development within a particular domain of information. As more content-oriented models were introduced, the “theme of uniqueness [of each model] was increasingly dropping out” (Kohlberg, 1990). Because the varying informational frameworks of different domains have often concealed the common underlying process of stage development, standardization of research methods has been difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, researchers soon recognized the need for a broadly applicable model of developmental assessment that is necessary in order not only to better conceptualize the patterns and themes of development, but also to conduct comparable cross-cultural studies.

Model of Hierarchical Complexity

     The Model of Hierarchical Complexity (MHC) developed by Commons (Commons, Trudeau, Stein, Richards, & Krause, 1998) offers a standard method of examining the universal pattern of development. This model is based on a theory of General Stage development (Commons & Richards, 1984a, 1984b). The MHC states that all stages are hard distinct stages varying only in the degrees of hierarchical complexity. To counter the possible objection of arbitrariness in such an inclusive and uniform definition of stages, the MHC stage orders are grounded in the hierarchical complexity criteria of mathematical models (Coombs, Dawes, & Tversky, 1970), and information science (Commons & Richards, 1984a, 1984b; Lindsay & Norman, 1977; Commons & Rodriguez, 1990, 1993). The Model of Hierarchical Complexity is not based on the assessment of domain specific information, but instead on the analysis of the complexity of the subject’s attempted solution to a task of a specific complexity. That is, the subject’s successful performance on a task of a given order of complexity represents the stage of development achieved by that subject. The stage score is derived from the evaluation of performances on tasks.

     The MHC has a broad range of applicability. The mathematical foundation of the model makes it an excellent research tool to be used by anyone examining performance that is organized into stages. It is designed simply to assess development based on the level of complexity which the individual utilizes to organize information. The MHC offers a singular mathematical method of measuring stages in any domain because the tasks presented can contain any kind of information. The model thus allows for a standard quantitative analysis of developmental complexity in any cultural setting. Other advantages of this model include its avoidance of mentalistic or contextual explanations, as well as its use of purely quantitative principles which are universally applicable in any context. Cross-cultural developmentalists and animal developmentalists; evolutionary psychologists, organizational psychologists, and developmental political psychologists; learning theorists, perception researchers, and history of science historians; as well as educators, therapists, and anthropologists can use the MHC to quantitatively assess developmental stages.

     Most of the earlier scoring schemes have not presented ways of assessing to what extent the quality of a subject’s performance on a task should influence the stage score independent of the content of the subject’s discussion. To remedy this problem, the MHC presents a framework that quantifies the order of hierarchical complexity of a task based on mathematical principles of how the information is organized, not what information is presented. The hierarchical complexity of a task to be solved is determined by the mathematical analysis of task demands. The order of performance on the task, or the stage, is also derived by analyzing the mathematical complexity of successful performance, not merely by observing what the subject does or says. The scores of the MHC indicate the stage achieved by the subject as indicated by his ability to successfully meet task demands of varying degrees of complexity. Results are not subjectively weighted based on the considerations of culture or the environment.

     Hierarchical complexity refers to the mathematical complexity of the task presented to the subject, as well as to the complexity of the subject’s performance that will successfully complete the given task. Every task contains a multitude of subtasks (Overton, 1990). When the subtasks are carried out by the subject in a required order, the task in question is successfully completed. Therefore, the model asserts that all tasks fit in some sequence of tasks, making it possible to precisely determine the hierarchical order of task complexity. Tasks vary in complexity in two ways: either as horizontal (involving classical information); or as vertical (involving hierarchical information).

     Horizontal (Classical Information) Complexity

     Classical information describes the number of “yes-no” questions it takes to do a task. For example, if one asked a person across the room whether a penny came up heads when they flipped it, their saying “heads” would transmit 1 bit of “horizontal” information. If there were 2 pennies, one would have to ask at least two questions, one about each penny. Hence, each additional 1-bit question would add another bit. Let us say they had a four-faced top with the faces numbered 1, 2, 3, or 4. Instead of spinning it, they tossed it against a backboard as one does with dice in a game. Again, there would be 2 bits. One could ask them whether the face had an even number. If it did, one would then ask if it were a 2. Horizontal complexity, then, is the sum of bits required by just such tasks as this.

     Vertical (Hierarchical) Complexity

     Specifically, hierarchical complexity refers to the number of recursions that the co-ordinating actions must perform on a set of primary elements. Actions at a higher order of hierarchical complexity: a) are defined in terms of actions at the next lower order of hierarchical complexity; b) organize and transform the lower-order actions; c) produce organizations of lower-order actions that are new and not arbitrary, and cannot be accomplished by those lower-order actions alone. Once these conditions have been met, we say the higher-order action co-ordinates the actions of the next lower order. Stage of performance is defined as the highest- order hierarchical complexity of the task solved. Using Rasch (1980) analysis, Commons, Goodheart, and Dawson (1995; 1997) found that hierarchical complexity of a given task predicts stage of a performance, the correlation being r = .92 (hierarchical complexity of the task that is completed).

     The nonarbitrary organization of several lower order actions constitutes one action of a higher order of complexity. For example, completing the entire operation 3 x (4 + 1) constitutes a task requiring the distributive act. That act uniquely orders adding and multiplying to coordinate them. The distributive act is therefore one order more hierarchically complex than the acts of adding and multiplying alone and it indicates the singular proper sequence of the simpler actions. Although someone who simply adds can arrive at the same answer, people who can do both display a greater freedom of mental functioning. Therefore, the order of complexity of the task is determined through analyzing the demands of each task by breaking it down into its constituent parts. the hierarchical complexity of any complex task is thus mathematically determined The subject is scored at the stage this complexity when he successfully completes the task using the integrated approach of coordinated combination of lower order actions.

     The hierarchical complexity of a task refers to the number of concatenation operations it contains. An order-three task has three concatenations operations. A task of order three operates on a task of order two and a task of order two operates on a task of order one (a simple task).

     Tasks are also quantal in nature. They are either completed correctly or not completed at all. There is no intermediate state. For this reason, the General Stage Model characterizes all stages as hard and distinct. The orders of hierarchical complexity are stepped like the rings around the nucleus. Each level of task difficulty has an order of hierarchical complexity required to complete it correctly. Once again, since tasks of a given order of hierarchical complexity require actions of a given order of hierarchical complexity, the stage of the subject’s performance is equivalent to the order of complexity of the successfully completed task. The quantal feature of tasks is thus particularly instrumental in stage assessment because the scores obtained for stages are likewise discrete.

     Hierarchical complexity of actions refers to the number of recursions that the coordinating actions must perform on a set of primary elements. Like tasks, actions at a higher order of hierarchical complexity:

     1) are defined in terms of the actions at the next lower order of hierarchical complexity;

     2) organize and transform the lower order actions;

     3) produce organizations of lower order actions that are new and not arbitrary, and cannot be accomplished by those lower order actions alone.

     The hierarchical complexity of tasks and the actions they require to be successfully completed provide the mathematical foundation for deriving scores for stages of reasoning. The MHC, however, does not dismiss the influences of the environment on one’s reasoning stage development, it simply does not quantify contextual variables during the scoring process as do other scoring manuals which are designed to measure stages in a particular domain of information and may give more weight to the overall score if particular issues are addressed by subjects, regardless of the manner in which the references are made.

Stages of Development

     The MHC specifies 14 stages, showing that each of Piaget’s substages, in fact, are hard stages. Commons also adds three postformal stages. The sequence is as follows: (0) computory, (1) sensory & motor, (2) circular sensory-motor, (3) sensory-motor, (4) nominal, (5) sentential, (6) preoperational, (7) primary, (8) concrete, (9) abstract, (10) formal, (11) systematic, (12) metasystematic, (13) paradigmatic, and (14) cross-paradigmatic. The first four stages (0-3) correspond to Piaget’s sensorimotor stage at which infants and very young children perform. Adolescents and adults can perform at any of the subsequent stages. MHC stages 4-6 correspond to Piaget’s pre-operational stage; 6-8 correspond to his concrete operational stage; and 9-11 correspond to his formal operational stage. The three highest stages in the MHC are not represented in Piaget’s model. Because MHC stages are conceptualized in terms of the hierarchical complexity of tasks rather than in t)terms of mental representations (as are Piaget’s stages), the highest stage represents successful performances on the most hierarchically complex tasks rather than intellectual maturity.

     Stages 0-5 normally develop during infancy and early childhood in people.

     At the calculatory stage (0), machines can do simple arithmetic on 0s and 1s.

     At the sensory and motor stage (1), infants may see or touch shapes, make generalized discriminations, as well as babbling vocalizations.

     At the circular sensory and motor stage (2), reaching and grasping actions occurs. These actions generate simple gestures.

     At the sensory-motor stage (3), the actions become associated with vocalizations. For instance, an infant may hold up an object and make sounds while doing so.

     At the nominal stage (4), first single words are formed. These words such as “cup” or “water” relate concepts to others.

     At the sentential stage (5), toddlers form short sentences and phrases. The use pronouns, and say numbers and letters in order as well.

     At the preoperational stage (6), the new concepts are 1st order representational sets (Fisher & Lazerson, 1984). These coordinate symbolic systems or the concepts of the previous stage. For instance, concepts like camp, fishing trip, good, and want are common. The preoperational stage concept of camp coordinates activities like swimming, playing, and painting. The logical structure of this stage identifies one aspect of a single representation, as in: “Joe wants to go to camp, ‘ in which Joe’s wanting to go is an’ aspect” of camp.

     At the primary stage (7), concepts are referred to as 2nd order representational sets. They coordinate or modify representational sets of the previous stage. Words like better, favorite, happier, and rule are common. The primary stage concept better, for example, can be employed to compare camp to a fishing trip. The logical structure of this stage coordinates one aspect of two or more representations, as in “if Joe’s Dad says he can’t go to camp, he will have to stay home,” in which Dad’s authority coordinates going to camp versus staying at home.

     At the concrete stage (8). the new concepts are 3rd order representational sets. These coordinate elements of representational systems of the previous two stages. Words like everybody, accident, blame, and crime are common. The concrete stage concept, everybody can be employed to generalize one’s own preference for camp to others. The logical structure of this stage coordinates multiple aspects of two or more representations, as in: “if he said he will never hit you again - he has to never hit you again or you won’t believe him,” in which the consequences of keeping a promise not to hit are coordinated to construct the notion of trust.

     At the abstract stage (9), the new concepts are referred to as 1st order abstractions. These coordinate concrete systems. Words like interest, affection, fairness, and guilt are common. The abstract stage concept, interest, for example, can be employed to explain one’s preference for camp over fishing. The logical structure of this stage identifies one aspect of a single abstraction, as in: “if you keep promises, your friends will trust you,” in which keeping promises is an aspect of trust.

     At the formal stage (10), the new concepts are referred to as 2nd order abstractions. These coordinate or modify first order abstractions. Words like basis, instinct, motive, and prejudice are common. The formal stage concept, basis, for example, can be employed to question whether the basis for preferring camp over fishing is represented by an interest in its activities or by a crush on the camp counselor. The logical structure of this stage coordinates one aspect of two or more abstractions, as in: “if people are going to get along, they have to trust each other, so it’s important to keep promises,” in which getting along is a consequence of maintaining trust through keeping promises.

     Few individuals perform at stages above formal operations. More complex behaviors characterize multiple system models (Kallio, 1995; Kallio & Helkaman, 1991). Some adults are said to develop alternative to, and perspectives on, formal operations. They use formal operations within a “higher” system of operations and transcend the limitations of formal operations. In any case, these are all ways in which these theories argue and present converging evidence that adults are using forms of reasoning that are move complex than formal operations.

     At the systematic stage (11), the new concepts are referred to as 3rd order abstractions. These coordinate elements of abstract systems. Words like bureaucratic, capitalist, functional, and structural are common. The systematic stage concept, structure, for example, can be employed to ask whether the structure of camp helps instill the qualities we want in future citizens. The logical structure of this stage coordinates multiple aspects of two or more abstractions, as in: “relationships are built on trust and though we can’t always keep them, making promises is one way we build trust, so it’s generally better to make promises than not to make them.” Here, the importance of trust to relationships, building trust, and the possibility that promises can be broken, are all taken into account while formulating the conclusion that promises are desirable.

     At the metasystematic stage (12), the new concepts are referred to as 1st order principles. These coordinate formal systems. Words like autonomy, parallelism, heteronomy, and proportionality are common. The metasystematic stage concept of parallelism, for example, can be employed to compare the structures of the military and of camp as institutions. The logical structure of this stage identifies one aspect of a principle or an axiom that coordinates several systems, as in: “contracts and promises are articulations of a unique human quality, mutual trust, which coordinates human relations.” Here, contracts and promises are seen as the instantiation of a broader principle coordinating human interactions.

     At the paradigmatic stage (13), people create new fields out of multiple metasystems. The objects of paradigmatic acts are metasystems. When there are metasystems that are incomplete and adding to them would create inconsistences, quite often a new paradigm is developed. Usually, the paradigm develops out of a recognition of a poorly understood phenomenon. The actions in paradigmatic thought form new paradigms from supersystems (metasystems).

     Paradigmatic actions often affect fields of knowledge that appear unrelated to the original field of the thinkers. Individuals reasoning at the paradigmatic order have to see the relationship between very large and often disparate bodies of knowledge, and co-ordinate the metasystematic supersystems. Paradigmatic action requires a tremendous degree of decentration. One has to transcend tradition and recognize one's actions as distinct and possible troubling to those in one's environment. But at the same time one has to understand that the laws of nature operate both on oneself and one’s environment—a unity. This suggests that learning in one realm can be generalized to others.


     At the cross-paradigmatic, paradigms and coordinated. This is the fourth postformal stage. Cross-paradigmatic actions integrate paradigms into a new field or profoundly transform an old one. A field contains more than one paradigm and cannot be reduced to a single paradigm. One might ask whether all interdisciplinary studies are therefore cross-paradigmatic? Is psycho biology cross-paradigmatic? The answer to both questions is ‘no’. Such interdisciplinary studies might create new paradigms, such as psychophysics, but not new fields.

     This order has not been examined in much detail because there are very few people who can solve tasks of this complexity. It may also take a certain amount of time and perspective to realize that behavior or findings were cross-paradigmatic. All that can be done at this time is to identify and analyze historical examples.


     Several tables are provided to help the reader better understand the concepts of stages as defined by the MHC. Tables 1, 4a, and 4b present the definitions of stages with examples of task demands of respective complexities. Table 1 particularly explains how behavior may form classes and how stimuli may be place into classes both functionally and analytically. This table gives examples of behaviors as they may be observed, and each stage behaviors is also broken down into substeps, showing the organizing functions of varying complexities. Table 1 is especially useful for scoring behaviors up to stage 12.

     Table 2 provides examples of the kinds of vocal remarks made by various family members performing at specified stages. This table is a particularly useful tool for evaluating stages among related individuals which may be helpful in studies examining development and controlling for hereditary factors. In addition, in many developing nations families tend to play particularly important roles in lives of individuals, and increases in complexity might be particularly evident if the content of the assessment deals with topic of family. Family affairs constitute a practical source of universally relevant content that could be used to evaluate stages in any cross-cultural setting. Familiarity with table 2, therefore, is particularly useful for researchers.

     Table 3 exemplifies various verbal relationships formed by vocalizations characterizing different stages. Table 3 is especially helpful since it shows some key grammatical structures associated with each stage, as well as the key phrases used by people performing at given stages. Though an in-depth mathematical analysis is necessary for an accurate assessment of stage, familiarity with Table 3 will assist the scorer in initial classification of behavior.

     Tables 4a and 4b describe the orders of hierarchy and sequence of stages, respectively. That is, the table elaborates the nonarbitrary coordination process underlying MHC stages. This table explains how concepts are constructed and vocalized at each stage with increasing complexity. These table also clearly show how each subsequent discriminations is vocalized at the subsequent verbal relationship is formed. Understanding the examples provided in Tables 4a and 4b enables the researcher to classify stage based on complexity of vocalizations and the verbal relationships they form.

     The new concepts formed at each stage can be viewed as “summaries” of the constructions of previous stages. While the MHC proposes no mental model to explain this process (Halford, 1999), suggests that this summarizing or “chunking” makes advanced forms of thought possible by reducing the number of elements that must be simultaneously coordinated to produce an argument or a conceptualization at a higher order of hierarchical complexity. Interestingly, at the preoperational, abstract, and metasystematic stages of the MHC the new concepts not only coordinate or modify constructions from the previous stage, but they are also qualitatively distinct conceptual forms: representations, abstractions, and principles, respectively. The appearance of each of these conceptual forms ushers in three repeating logical forms: definitional, linear, and multi variate. Other researchers have confirmed these distinct conceptual forms and repeating logical structures (Fischer, 1980; Fischer & Kenny 1986; Fischer & Lazerson, 1984).

External Influences

     Psychological, sociological, and anthropological data address why the subject’s performance develops in a given manner. However, why development takes place is linked to how subjects can demonstrate the stage of development. The successful completion of a task requires an ideal action of a given order of hierarchical complexity which had developed as a result of influences by psychological and sociological variables. For example, Table 5 shows how stimulus control with or without support can change the relative difficulty of a task. The level of support during task completion, therefore, changes the scored order of performance. Other models have often used the subject’s reference to an informational set as an index of stage development without considering such variable as the level of support. We believe that this approach is oversimplified. Accurate, consistent results could only be obtained when the system of evaluation is based on a universally applicable groundwork, such as the mathematical foundation of the MHC. According to the MHC, the subject’s approach to a given task is quantified to produce a score for the stage of reasoning in any domain. Inferences regarding the factors influencing the performance can be made independent of obtaining the stage scores.

     The Model of Hierarchical Complexity posits that individual’s perceptions of the world (and the stimuli in it) are influenced by frameworks. These frameworks embody the individual’s conditioning history, including cultural, educational, religious, political, and social backgrounds, among other factors. These combined frameworks are referred to as one’s perspective. Perspectives differ in terms of hierarchical complexity. As the hierarchical complexity of an individuals’s response to task demands increases (i.e., as complexity of performance goes up), the individual is increasingly likely to have taken many such perspectives into account (Commons & Rodriguez, 1990).

     There are task demands that certain professions require of individuals. While the job demands of a secretary may not exceed formal stage of complexity, those of managers or judges often require development beyond the systematic stage. Tables 9 and 10 provide examples of types of social organizations and professional settings which require development to various stages of complexity.

Conceptualizing Stages

     Each of Piaget’s stages is defined by a set of formal properties that constitute a structure d’ensemble, or a structure of the whole. This has sometimes been taken to mean that the entire knowledge system forms a single unified global structure (Fischer, 1980). In some interpretations of stage transitions based on the notion of structure d’ensemble, development is characterized by abrupt global reorganizations of the knowledge system which is modeled as a single staircase. However, studies of performances on various tasks do not provide evidence for this type of a global structuring of knowledge. Instead, assessment models such as the MHC posit that several analogous structures of knowledge exist, however, they do not appear to develop in parallel. This is especially true of analogous structures in different knowledge domains (Fischer, 1980; Fischer & Kenny 1986; Fischer & Lazerson, 1984). In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever supporting a single, global, stepwise pattern of development. Instead, it has been argued that the cognitive system can best be conceptualized as a set of interrelated dynamic knowledge systems (Fischer, 1980; Fischer & Kenny, 1986; Fischer & Lazerson,1984; van Geert, 1991), each developing in a hierarchical manner. As discussed earlier, the MHC does not propose a direct link between mental processes and performance. However, inferences can be made about mental processes on the basis of patterns of performance, and these inferences can inform research into mental functioning when cultural and other factors influencing performance are evaluated along with the actual actions.-


Task Theory

     To further elucidate the concepts involved in quantifying task demands as the basis for generating stage scores we present an overview of how tasks are constructed. Task demands increase along a continuum of complexity: from preoperational, concrete, and abstract, to formal, systematic, and metasystematic.

     Series of tasks in different domains

     Each task can only be correctly addressed at a given point in development.  If the successful completion of the task requires a higher stage then one at which the person is performing, the scored stage will be lower than if the task demands actions at the reasoning stage the subject has already achieved. Fischer has shown that presenting a task that is above the subject’s stage of performance depressed the performance index below the actual stage for reasons related to emotional development (Fischer, 1980; Fischer & Kenny, 1986; Fischer & Lazerson, 1984), to be additionally discussed in section called Stage Transition. Therefore, using only a stage task that’s too demanding may result in underscoring performance. Presenting a task demanding the response that the subject can actually display is a more accurate method of assessment. At the outset of the study, this stage is hard to predict. The most efficient way to assess stage, therefore, is to administer several tasks of varying complexity for the subject to attempt, including tasks of low orders of complexity. The completed task of the highest order of hierarchical complexity of all the tasks presented would most accurately represent the actual stage of the subjects’ reasoning. In other words, the Model of Hierarchical Complexity not only does not focus on any particular domain of knowledge for reasoning stage assessment, but it also recommends that several tasks from multiple domains are presented in order to obtain the most accurate results. The stage scores may differ in each domain depending upon the mathematical complexity of performance.

     Dimensions of tasks

      Tasks are comprised of three basic dimensions: action, description or reflection upon that action (King & et al., 1989; Tappan, 1990), and the number of element that a person can work with at a given time which are required to perform that action and to report on it. The theory underlying the development of tasks is that different tasks require different levels or values of each of the three dimensions. The values of each dimension are important in assessing the stage at which a person is able to successfully execute a task. Often, these three dimensions are ignored and only one measurement, stage of action, is specified. This oversimplified process does not yield comparable measures of stage across tasks because the scoring is based on different values in one or more of the other three dimensions. In other words, the action demands of executing a certain task in one domain may differ from the action demands of executing a task in another domain. The same would be true for the demands of reflection required in performing a task in one domain versus another; and for the amount of memory required to execute a task in one domain versus another. The MHC is primarily concerned with the first dimension of task, the action dimension, because it interprets the stage of reasoning to correspond other stage of performance. However, the stages may differ in different domains because task demands also differ.

     In making comparable stage interpretations across tasks, each of the values in the dimensions of action, reflection and memory should be specified. In other words, when discussing stage one must be specific about the reference to the dimensions of action, reflection, and memory.

           I. Dimension 1: Action

     The dimension of action consists of a number of requirements for a series of concatenated actions to form a stage hierarchy of actions. The chain of steps may not be rearranged. If doing the action was at the sensory motor stage Footnote , reporting on the action would be at the nominal stage, reporting on why one chooses that particular action would be at preoperational stage, and justifying those justifications would be at the primary stage. That is, more complex tasks and actions coordinate lower order tasks and actions in a nonarbitrary fashion, yielding the process to quantitative analysis.

     For example, children might be told to put their toys into the toy box. Putting toys into the toy box is an action that a sensory motor child might perform. At the nominal stage they might say "Put toys," or "Put toys away." Preoperational children might say, "We are putting the toys away so we can get some cookies." Primary operational children might justify putting the toys away by saying, "We must put the toys away now before we do the next thing because that is the rules."

     The order of hierarchical complexity of tasks composed of subtasks is easily determined. When the tasks are from the same domain, if one task operates on the other, the order of complexity increases. The same is true across domains. When tasks from different domains are added to one another to form a new task, the number of required concatenations of actions also add. This assumes that stage requirements form an interval scale. The order of hierarchical complexity required by a task is written as o. Hence, for stage:

o = the order n requirements - order n - 1 requirements where the order n requirements is the order of hierarchal complexity required by the task.

  Hence for stage:

     stage n requirements - stage n - 1 requirements =

     stage n - k - stage n - k - 1

The predicted stage required by a task is written as o.

o = order n - k - order n - k - 1

This assumption also holds for describing action and reflecting upon the description.

           Dimension Y: Reflection

     The dimension of reflection on action consists of the following steps:

      1. Doing the action

     2. Reporting on doing the action (shadowing)

     3. Reporting on why one chooses that particular action

     4. Reporting on why that justification is good

     5. Reporting on why that system of justifications is good

Each step requires the previous step. The question is whether the fact that each step requires a previous step represents a change of stage.

           Dimension Z: Memory

     Remembering an action in order to reflect upon it requires non-structural actions that increase the task difficulty. Little children can describe what they are doing before they can describe what they have done earlier (Piaget, 1976; Karmiloff-Smith, 1986) although their exact report of what they have done may differ from what they actually did. Karmiloff-Smith clearly explains that there are mechanisms of thought in operation before the child comes to be able to report on those actions. Recalling previous actions may or may not require an extra stage depending on how the recall is triggered. For example, if the recall is in the sensory-motor stage as is the remembering of a comfortable sleeping position in order to attain that level of comfort again, one stage is not required to solve the problem, one simply moves around until that position is again attained. Yet, the explanation of what that position is requires additional stages. If the recall depends upon having a sense of time (i.e., recalling something ordered by time) it might require the attainment of at least one stage of development.

     A given developmental stage represents a measure of successful performance on tasks of the same order of hierarchical complexity. The General Stage Model (Commons & Richards, 1984a, 1984b; Commons & Rodriguez, 1990; Commons & Rodriguez, 1993) defines the stage in terms of task performance. When people successfully perform tasks of a given order of hierarchical complexity, they are performing at the stage of the equivalent order. However, the dimensions of reflection and memory also influence the performance or action and are shaped by the developmental environment of the individual. The MHC incorporates ideas about how task performance develops and how transition progresses from one stage to the next.

Stage Transition

     In order to understand how the dimension of performance increases in hierarchical complexity we must examine the factors implicated in driving stage transition. That is, we must examine the various contingencies that promote the development of performance at higher reasoning stages which is only possible when the dimensions of reflection and memory coordinately increase in complexity along with the dimension of action. Here we also consider emotional and various environmental factors that shape the individual’s transition from one stage to the next.

     Every subject’s behavior could be categorized to a transition step between stages. Varying factors such as the impact of emotions, personality, and environment, etc influence how long someone may stay at each step-. Most people only traverse up to 12 stages by the age of 24. Evidence shows people transition every two years at most, sometimes even less. The only time when fast transitions occur is perhaps during infancy. Again, the subject’s performance on a task can only be scored at a given stage of complexity when the task of a corresponding order of complexity is successfully completed. Table 7, for example, focuses on four types of personalities associated with various transition substeps. Adults are simply not meant to “get stuck” at these substeps, and the examples provided are often associated with psychological or personality disorders. This knowledge of transitional mechanisms underlying development is a great asset for therapists and psychiatrists to possess because it could be so useful in diagnosing patients. Since reinforcement moves people along the substeps toward the successful achievement of stage, using various modifiers of reinforcement would help clinicians treat patients. The crucial insights of the MHC, therefore, are clearly applicable not only in research, but in medical practice as well.

     When one successfully completes a task of a given order of hierarchical complexity, one is performing at that stage of complexity. Therefore, static coping is what occurs when one is not required to perform above one’s characteristic stage of performance. Often one must meet or solve other problems successfully, or assume additional perspectives and skills in order to change stages. In those cases, dynamic coping occurs during stage transition and it involves several steps. During steps 0-2, deconstruction of previous stage behavior occurs (e.g. Swan & Benack, in press), during steps 3-4, new stage behavior is constructed.

     At the beginning of each transition the perceived rate of reinforcement drops. The more one confronts failure, the more one might expect avoidance. In fact, Commons, Grotzer, and Davidson (in preparation) found that feedback alone in higher stage tasks led to a decrease in stage of performance, rather than an increase. Perhaps its defensive behavior, with is fear accompanying transition through the steps, decreases the stage of performance. Another explanation could be that one does not see a stage of performance higher than one’s own in others and this impedes learning through support. Please refer to Table 5 which elaborates the role of support in stage change. In any case, it is important to note that emotions are usually associated with transition of stages.


Transition steps

     At step 0, the demands for performance beyond the final step of the last stage are perceived. Without changing performance from step 4 of the previous stage, there is a perceived reduction of reinforcement for task performance. This characterizes step 0. A person feels stupid and upset, sometimes even angry, while failing to fulfil a task. One may also feel elated about task mastery of the previous stages tasks.

     At step 1, the person feels dejection in addition to the previous feeling of sadness (or anger). In both of these first transitional steps, one may want to “give it all up” and forget about it all. These are defense mechanists, ways of switching the point and rejecting frustration.

     At step 2, relativism becomes the key concept. One sees the possibility of solving a problem but does not necessarily know the right means of doing it. Someone can be seen as competent for a special task, but not to any task. Relativism has to do with contexts, and because contextualization is a sort of concretizing, it is an attempt to cope with each better way. But concretizing is not the same as coordinating. One just knows there is a way of comparing situations and means, but not how to do so. Keep in mind that actions of the full higher order of hierarchal complexity not only put together actions of the lower order, but organize them in a non-arbitrary fashion. Random contextualization, therefore, is characteristic of a transitional step from one stage of performance to another.

     Table 6a explains the steps involved in stage deconstruction, also providing the logical scheme underlying this process. The substeps organizing each deconstruction step are provided in dialectical form, even though the organization is based on mathematical laws. The construction of each step out of substeps is written out to facilitate the readers’s understanding of the very mathematical notions involved in organizing complexity.

     At this point during transition, between the deconstruction and construction steps, one may feel conflicted, anxious and not sure of anything, because the individual does not perceive any control over the situation. People may ask themselves whether they are independent or dependent, but they most likely can not find an answer. Who is the one that really holds the reins? One might enjoy the excitement of the uncertainty, such as s tourist feels upon visiting a strange land and experiencing other cultures for the first time. One might defend the relativism as a necessary reality and feel that it justifies one’s behavior.

     At step 3, the first step in constructing new stage behavior, people begin to show more creativity in handling problems. There are several conditioning substeps comprising this step:

a) The first substep is described as "getting chaotic". One simply tries anything to get going. What is often done is just smashing (or lumping) of all the existing systems of acting together without any formal integration. Smashing has an aggressive and desperate tone characterizing attempts to "survive"– i.e. building a life raft out of anything. On the first substep, people feel somewhat manic as part of a normal process.

b) The second substep is the "learning what to do” substep. Templates are formed that are inclusive. The instance of the relationship at the target stage will be detected and used. This second substep brings with it a beginning in producing correct results. One is not able to eliminate those acts that do not bring good solutions, but the right direction is at hand. The most common feelings experienced at this point are excitement and a sense of frustration because of making errors.

c) The third conditioning substep is "learning when and where to do" each subset of action. People know what to do but not when to do it. They may feel uncomfortable and confused, but not helpless. One knows what to do, but not when. On the other hand, people who do not know what to do, may have a feeling of deep incompetence and helplessness. When people feel both confused and helpless, they have no sense of power nor the ability to act progressively. One learns to eliminate over generalization errors. Everything has to be compulsively cleaned up. One may be obsessive, fussy, and "sticking." Templates constructed here exclude rather than include. There is reconstruction. One is just not meant to get stuck here.

     During the final step 4 which completes the construction of new stage behavior, inclusion and exclusion templates are finally coordinated. One feels glorious for combining right elements successfully. A post-reinforcement pause may follow. At this step the closure makes one feel personally satisfied. As Rosenberg points out, how this momentary stability is perceived will effect how one feels socially (Rosenberg, 1979). Quite often the demands for further development occur. This affects how long such positive feeling persist.

     Table 6b explains the deconstruction steps, also elaborating the logical scheme involved. Like in Table 6a, the substeps are clearly written out to clarify the mathematical principles of organization.

     Reinforcement moves everyone along the substeps according the melioration law (Herrnstein, 1982, Herrnstein & Vaughan, 1980), which dictates that behavior progresses at a rate proportional to an increase in reinforcement. Increases in hits increase the likelihood of making hits, which reinforces the generalization. Decreases in over generalization also increase reinforcement. This law also explains how and why the lack of satisfaction reinforcement that occurs when tasks are completed which are below the actual stage of the individual-- underestimate the stage since the individual may actually perform at a lower stage due to the lack of such reinforcement. Indeed, as explained in Table 7, emotional states and personality types affect stage transition, and this factor must be considered when formulating a complete conception of the processes involved in stage development.

     Knowing how stage transition occurs is important in the proper application of the quantitative methods of the MHC. Since stage is assessed from performance, the best performance must be elicited properly. The failure of the researchers to administer the tasks so as to provide an adequate environment for the expression of ability may result in underscoring stage. Therefore, researchers must understand the psychological and sociological variables not only of how performance on tasks develops, but also how it can be demonstrated during assessment procedures. 

How to Measure Transition

     Transition can be measured using four different methods:

1. Scoring interviews directly for statements that reflect transition

2. Finding the rate and acceleration of alternations of old stage and newer stage actions.

3. Finding the proportion of new stage versus old stage behavior.

4. Determining the hierarchical complexity of stimulus items (or tasks) and using a Rasch analysis to show that they form a continuous scale. The Rasch analysis scales performance and items on the same log linear line. Transitional performance is shown by the mixtures of performances at different stages. The mixtures range from 0% at the higher stage to 100%. We call 95% at a stage consolidated performance and 0% up to 95% transitional. The advantages of the Rasch analysis are that: (a) it reduces measurement variance to a minimum; (b) This yields direct comparability which is useful in assessing both the possible natural number and nature of the items and the corresponding performances (Mislevy & Wilson, 1996; Wilson, 1989).


Acquisition of New Stage Behavior

     To overcome the huge gap between the lower stage behavior and the higher-stage behavior, Piaget suggested two processes: assimilation of new behaviors and performances to the present stage; accommodation to the higher stage performance. In both cases, we argue that the laws of learning apply. Different forms of instruction produce both assimilation and accommodation. The general finding is the more solid the performance at the lower stage behaviors, the more easily the new stage behavior may be acquired.

     We describe five ways of advancing stage change as discussed with respect to adult development. First is the didactic method of teaching about higher stage behaviors. Second is the Piagetian notion of immersion and the use of contradictions. There are a wide range of programs and variation on this theme (See Adey, in preparation; Brendel, Kolbert, & Foster, in press; Lovell, 1999; McAuliffe, in press). Third is the use of reinforcement for correct answers and outcomes. Fourth is the use of support. Last is the use of direct instruction and charted performance as feedback.

     Didactic teaching has many variants. The most common is show and tell. At the high school level and above, this is referred to as lectures. Lecturers seem to have been derived in form from sermons. The information is imparted by speaking to the multitude. Seeing films or videos, DVD’s or other electronic form of one-way media including seeing films, or listening to tapes, are all variants. Sometimes there is a lecture followed by a discussion section, which may include more detailed lectures with some possibility for questions.

     A second and related form to lectures is reading material. Not surprisingly, it is more effective. It allows for self-pacing, reviewing, and highlighting. Reading is a much more active process. The order from least active to most active is as follows: show and tell, listening, and reading.

     Whereas the Piagetian notion of immersion works well for children and adults who care about contradictions in academic settings, less motivated children do not change stage very readily under these conditions (Commons & Miller, 1998). In one experiment, performing the correct task lets the children earn points. The children’s points are then pooled for different teams and then the teams are put into competition between each other. These competitions for points led 75% of fifth and six grade students to acquire formal operations on a number of Piagetian tasks.

Fischer (personal communication     Fischer (personal communication) reports that various forms of support–providing examples or prompts for what is the correct response--leads to the acceleration of the acquisition of new stage behavior. This is probably due to the fact that such types of support reduce the required task demands by one order of hierarchical complexity (see Table 5). This makes it possible to perform the higher stage task. Repeated performances at the higher stage are reinforced and therefore acquired.

     Finally, fields such as Precision Teaching offer actual training of new actions. Two basic notions in Precision Teaching are elements (components) and compounds (combinations) of those element behaviors. Precision Teachers first train individuals on the elements or components, and only later on combining them. In Precision Teaching one makes decisions about the effectiveness of current instructional interactions based on charted performances. The chart shows the rate of completing tasks and compares the rates to how experts would perform. Fluency training on the element behaviors consists of getting those behaviors to occur at an extremely rapid rate. When the rate of behavior reaches a maximum, that is, it most closely matches the rate of an expert –the behavior is considered fluent. If it is learned to the extent that very little effort or special attention is required, that is, the performance is automatic. Fluency training on the elements seems to increase the speed at which compounds are acquired from elements. The implications of this work are that Precision Teaching in behavior analysis provides an empirical account of development.


The Upper Limits of Stage Transition

     The discussion of stage transition may give the impression that under ideal conditions no factors in the stage transition theory necessitate an upper limit on stage. The current formulation of stages includes 14 orders of complexity, suggesting that the number of times a series of elements can be turned into a higher order combination is 14. This may, in fact, be the upper limit, at least for human beings. There have been an increasing number of empirical reports claiming that a limit exists on the number of times a series of elements can be turned into a combination. These reports can be found in training studies, which show that at a given age, there are limits to how much training is effective in bringing about change. We also know from training graduate students that no matter how much training one provides for this group, some students will never move beyond the systematic stage in their problem solving because of getting stuck somewhere in the transition, not because of an inadequate testing environment.

     It is also suggested that whatever the upper limit may be for a particular individual, that ceiling is almost totally heritable. For example, there does not seem to be any variation among identical twins who have been provided with similar training. Providing additional training to both twins merely causes acceleration of transition in the slower twin, but only up to the limit achieved by the other twin, not beyond.

     This theory of stage transition makes six predictions regarding the stages, all of which (Dawson, Commons, & Wilson, in review; Dawson et al., 1999, June) have confirmed:


1.  There is perfect sequentiality.

2.  There is absolutely no mixing of stage items.

3.  There are gaps in difficulty between stages. A Saltus model (Wilson, 1989) shows that there is no continuity between the stage items.

4.  These gaps are pretty equal, showing that the task demands of transition from one stage to another are similar regardless of the particular transition. These gaps have been shown using a Rasch analysis with a Saltus model (Dawson & Commons, in preparation). This result is consistent with our argument here about the quantal nature of transition..

5.  People generally perform in a uniform manner regardless of the domain. Most performances are predominantly at a single stage.

6.  The distribution of person’s abilities within each transition is strongly skewed toward the higher stage. Comparatively few people exhibit only a little reasoning at their highest stage. For example (Dawson & Commons, in preparation), there are fewer participants performing in transition on Kohlberg’s Heinz and Joe dilemmas and more who perform at lower consolidated stages. Whether a participant’s performance was in transition was measured psychometrically by the proportion of new stage versus old stage behavior.

     The Model of Hierarchical Complexity allows an explanation for performance and behavior that may apparently be “stuck” between stages. Stages of performance are, indeed, hard, and distinct, as the General Stage Model dictates; however, understanding the steps involved in transition between stages, and the influences of emotional states on the subject’s actions as well as on other dimensions of performance on tasks allows for a more complete understanding of stages. The higher the stage, the more complex the behavior it requires, therefore, at higher stages, transition behavior is more likely to be observed than at lower stages which require simpler behavioral patterns.

     The mathematical foundation of the MHC also presents a more concrete framework for assessing development that can be used to make cross-cultural studies and comparisons in order to elaborate the factors involved in human development. However, it is also necessary to thoughtfully construct the format of presenting the tasks to the subjects, because the format may have additional effects on performance.

Steps to scoring interviews using the Model of Hierarchical Complexity


The Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System (HCSS) entails several steps for assessing performance on a task:

1.  Transcribe the interview or the material and put it onto a disk in a file. The file should be continuous. There should be a subject number, age and sex. The interview should be recorded verbatim. The analysis follows the interview. It is done systematically.

2.  Divide the interview into individual statements about an issue in a domain. In an interview, each statement is numbered. These are usually propositions. Number the propositions a1, a2, a3, ... ak etc. 

3.  The individual statements are coordinated to build bigger statements. For example, two abstract stage statements, a1, a2, may be coordinated to form one formal operational statement, f1. Two or more formal operational statements, f1, f2. may be coordinated into a system, s1. Two or more systems, s1, s2, may be coordinated into a metasystem, m1. Hence, the beginning statements may appear low in stage. The overall statement that is being scored usually ends with the highest stage coordination. The overall concluding statement is used to determine overall complexity for a number of reasons:

     a.   The mixture of lower order items distort the score of a statement or action.

     b.  All higher order statements require such lower order substatement.

     c.   Hence, scores the most integrative statement or action because it is the only consistent way to score

Sometimes the last coordination comes when the subject is asked why something is not true, caring, fair, beautiful, important, etc. The overall statement is the series of sub-statements the ends with the highest stage coordination.


3.  Statements are classified as scorable or unscorable. A scorable statement consisted of the assertion of a solution to what the subject perceived as a problem (often an interview question) and the justification for that assertion. Statements are considered unscorable if no justifications were given regardless of whether solutions were asserted.


4.  Scorable statements contain either positive or negative assertions. An assertion was a positive if it affirmed some position or relationship. A assertion was a negative if it denied or rejected a position or relationship.


5.  To determine the category in choice theory (hit, miss, correct rejection, or false alarm) into which a answer falls the correct and incorrect information is combined with the positive and negative assertions.


6.  To determine whether the statement's conclusion is correct or incorrect for the stage of reasoning the subject used to make the conclusion,


     a.   the hierarchical complexity of the implicit task a subject is trying to perform was systematically abstracted;

     b.  the most complex task attempted in a statement was identified;

     c.   the subject's argumentation was compared with the criteria for the stage.


7.  Whether an assertion resulted from successful or unsuccessful reasoning was distinguished in two ways, depending on whether the assertion was positive or negative. A positive assertion which affirmed a conclusion that is correct for the stage of reasoning it used was called a hit. If the conclusion was incorrect, by the criteria of the stage, the positive assertion was labeled a false alarm. A negative assertion which correctly rejected a conclusion that is false for the stage of reasoning used was a correct rejection. And if the conclusion was incorrectly rejected, by the criteria of the stage, it was called a miss.


8.  The last step is to calculate an index of sensitivity and a Rasch estimate of both item (score given to a statement) difficulty and participant proclivity. These are related to the given order of hierarchical complexity of the item. The nominal traditional categories of domain, issue, and norm are also recorded.


Problems with other forms of scoring


I.   Scoring manuals have been domain specific for the most part. Colby and Kohlberg's (1987a, 1987b) scoring system is reliable only for those dilemmas contained in the scoring manual. The Washington Sentence Completion Test (WSCT) scoring system is reliable only for those sentence stems contained in the scoring manual. This restriction follows from the fact that the logic of interstage relationships has not been made explicit.


     a.   bootstrapping method of developing the scoring system

     b.  manuals generated by applying a particular stage theory to pilot data

     c.   manual consists of standard dilemmas with representative answers for each stage

     d.  criterion judgments for each issue in the argument are reviewed, and matched to subjects' responses

     e.   the matching process requires scorer to be familiar with the manual and to make fine discriminations between arguments

     f.   matches are ultimately based on the particular conceptual content of elements employed by the subject, rather than upon the relations among these elements. Standard Issue Scoring is thus limited by being content bound.

Definition of Common Terms across Stage Models

Domain: Domain describes a set of tasks that share certain qualities in common. Such tasks are similar in both their actions and the objects acted upon (content).

Order of Hierarchical Complexity of Performance: A subject's stage of performance is the order of hierarchical complexity of a successfully performed task.

Concatenation: In a concatenation, a coordinating action is performed on two or more elements. The products of this action then become the elements and the action is performed again on the new elements. The products of the second performance of the action are taken as elements and the action is performed again. In theory, such a concatenation may be extended indefinitely.

Variable: A variable is defined as an element with more than one possible solution (value). Variables can be continuous (like size) or discrete (like age in years). Discrete variables can be binary (dichotomous), like clean/dirty or new/old, or they can be multivalent, like number of dependents.

Downward assimilation: Subjects sometimes give answers or solutions that are derived from a higher orders of reasoning than the one the subject uses to justify the answer. This suggests that people may be attracted to the arguments of a given stage even if they themselves are unable to generate them. The adoption of such arguments is downward assimilation.

Interview instrument: An interview instrument is a construction such as the Heinz Dilemma. It presents a framework around which the interview can be directed.


Instruments of assessment

     In assessing development there is always the question as to whether the tasks should be presented to subject as a series of problems or in an interview format. In either case, the task may be used to examine various issues, such as moral reasoning, social-perspective taking, attachment, causality detection, etc. The subject may deal with each issue at a different stage, depending on the order of the performance on the task connected to each issue. When the three task dimensions earlier described are uniformly taken into account, both types of the assessment instruments, the interview and problem set, yield equivalent stage results because stage is a single measure of the hierarchical complexity of the task that the subject is solving. As long as the task demands presented in an interview or in a problem set are the same, performance stage should not vary. Though the format of the task can possibly add demands not related to stage of performance, the stage scores remain unchanged because the task related to stage is what must be correctly completed. Like all answers during an interview solve some implied task, all solutions to a problem series solve an issue at a stage of a particular hierarchical complexity (Commons, Kantrowitz, et al., 1984). Footnote

     Once a task has been constructed and administered, the scoring scheme specifies the relevant data that the researcher evaluates to produce a stage score. Since most scoring schemes use standard assessment tools, the implied tasks that the subject carries out at a given stage are clear to the researcher. Once the implied tasks for each stage are uncovered from analyzing subjects’ responses, a direct problem with more categorical answers is constructed.

     Interview answers are relatively less constrained than stimulus driven problems. Problems and dilemmas always have specific contexts and ways of assessing performances. Because interview answers are much less constrained, one would expect that the plausible responses are essentially infinite. The validly of the answers may be great because the probability of selecting a non-self-representative response is virtually nil. On the other hand, dilemma presentation risks missing the responses that a subject would choose if less constrained by the instrument of assessment. Hence, we suggest that both dilemma and response sets are used as measurement tools during the evaluations. In some cultures, on the spot social discussions may also prove useful and necessary. Keep in mind, that presenting a variety of tasks of varying orders of complexity comprise the most efficient method of accurately assessing stage.

     The two forms of measurement are mirrors of one another. With fixed problems, one can study the processes of transition and acquisition of new stage behaviors, as well as the specific ways in which problems are solved. Small variations may be introduced into the fixed problems administered to the subjects, by varying single aspects of interest each time an assessment tool is used.

     Turning interview questions into problems

     In addition, though this involves a considerable effort, researchers can turn the interview responses into problems. The main difficulty lies in delineating the implied tasks and in showing how the actions that are needed to carry out a desired sequence of tasks order the more complex stage sequence.

     Pros and cons of interviews

     There is a number of reasons for choosing whether or not to use interviews. Open ended interviews, for instance, create variability, delaying the operationalization of the variables that the researcher thinks are important. During such interviews the subject may or may not choose to discuss a particular topic which may be important for raising the stage score according the system based on informational references. While solving specific problems, on the other hand, the subject is more likely to obtain clearer instructions from the researcher regarding which particular topics it’s important and relevant to address. The MHC does not make this contextual distinction and any combination of open-ended questions and more specific problems may comprise an acceptable format of testing stage.

     Pros and cons of problems

     Problems commit the researcher to an operationalization of the issues.  They often do not measure the actual proficiency of the subject, because they contain demands that are not central to the concerns of the researcher and therefore may also underestimate the stage score. As many testing manuals point out (Anastasi, 1982), more than one form of the problem has to be generated in order to help the researcher make appropriate evaluations.  So-called warm-up effects reflect the transfer of competence from one domain to the one being examined.  Unless the transfer process is also examined, initial results of single items can be very misleading (Commons & Ducheny 1979).

Examples of scoring


Attachment A. Male, Age 8, Stage 7 Primary-Step 3 Smash, Substep 2: Over generalization: Transition to Concrete:

     Interviewer: What happened to the toy that your cousin lost?

Child: Yeah. He threw it up someplace. It must've landed in a gutter or in the streets.

Analyses: He talked about his own point of view in an earlier response. Now he has reversed and is talking about his cousin (who threw his toy “some place”). He is at least considering what his cousin did and how that affected not being able to find the toy. However there is no specific co-ordination between what the cousin did and the fact that the toy cannot be found. The substep of transition that he is showing is over generalization. He would blame his cousin for anything, so he does not have “correct rejection” strategies - just a large number of hits.

     Attachment N. Male, Age 9, Stage 7 Primary-Step 3 Smash: Transitional to Concrete

     Interviewer: Why weren’t you very mad when your friend moved?

Child: Because I did have a say in it, sort of. I asked them to stay, but he said Oh we’ve been planning to move for about a year.

Analyses: This child spoke about these experiences almost entirely in primary order terms. But he made three statements approaching the concrete order (of which this is one). This statement involves more than just himself. He recognizes that others have points of view, but he does not really refer to their point of view. As a result this was coded as being at the transition substep smash.

     Attachment K. Female, Age 8, Stage 8 Concrete-Step 2 Relativism:  Transition to abstract

[When asked whether she was afraid due to the loss of her hat:]

Child: I just wasn't afraid. Because, I don't get afraid when I lose something. But if it's something very, very special to me, really, really important and I always loved it, then I would be a little more scared and worried that I lost it. I'll never see it again.

Analysis: She seems to have two ideas: some things that are not very important do not make her get very afraid; other things that are very, very important would make her get more afraid. She seems to be beginning to deal with different values of “importance” and of “fear” and relating them to each other, but she is not doing the relating explicitly. She also seems to be thinking hypothetically; she does not have a specific thing in mind but says “If it’s something…” As far as what step of transition she is showing here, it is relativism: she has both points of view, but does not co-ordinate them, instead she alternates between them.

     Attachment C. Female, Age 9, Stage 8 Concrete-Step 3 Smash: Transition to abstract

[When her cat died:]

Child: It made me feel like I had to do something because I wasn't taking it that hard and like, the other two were.

Analysis: This is a story, with specified roles: self and other family members. She is stating what sounds like a social norm, but it is not a general social norm. It is specific: because these two people are upset, she should be upset. This is transitional to abstract, because generalized social norms are abstract. The transition substep is smash because the social norm is not free, it is stuck on these two people and this situation.

     Therapy Stage 10 Formal, Step 4 (0):

     Participant: I play slowly enough to anticipate each upcoming section of the music.

Analysis: Formal, stage 10. An implied “if… then” relationship logically connects two abstract variables. The first variable is the speed of playing, and the second is the anticipation of upcoming sections of music.

     Therapy Stage 10 Formal-Step 1 Negation: Transition to Systematic

     Participant: “He sees intimacy in a different way than me.”

Analysis: This is a functional relation: “If he sees intimacy as ‘x’ then I see it as ‘y’ and vice-versa.” This is a comparison between two abstract propositions.

     Therapy Stage 10 Formal-Step 3 Smash: Transition to Systematic

     Participant: “Need to explore and respect each other’s wants and desires and function as a team [to build intimacy].”

Analysis: The adult has a “needs to do” list of the conditions required for building intimacy. This is multiple causation; the conditions are combined in an additive fashion at the formal stage. The social relationship, as a system that builds intimacy, is not explained as a co-ordinated system of viewpoints that balances individual with common needs or desires. “Explore and respect each other’s wants and desires” indicates a notion of maintaining independence and “function as a team” dependence, but the adult doesn’t account for how to co-ordinate them.

     Attachment M. Male, Age 41, Stage 11 Systematic-Step 0 Failure: Transition to Metasystematic

      Participant: I lost my car, my marriage, my job, my health and a whole lot of other things at that same period of time so I can’t say, you know, it was point 0. 0 centimeters of sadness associated with losing my motorcycle.

Analyses: Systematic because there was this whole system of losses impacting on him that he cannot point to one event or one variable as the cause of his sadness. It is seen as transitional step 0 because it is just loss with nothing else.

              Therapy Stage 11 Systematic-Step 1 Negation: Transition to Metasystematic

              Participant: I need to understand that John is a man of few words when it comes to love.

Analysis: The adult is negating blame. She is taking responsibility for constructing her view of John as an element of her overall understanding of building intimacy instead of blaming him (entirely) for blocking the process. (Negating blame is a rejection of a formal, linear view of causality. ) The systematic level of complexity as explained here involves a context (i.e., “when it comes to love” is a distinct context) in which the self (i.e., “I need to understand that …”) takes a view of the other’s view of love (i.e., “John is a man of few words when it comes to love”).

              Attachment D. Female, Age 41 Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2 Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic

Interviewer: How did you come to change your mind [about your whole way of looking at life, as a result of living through the war in your country]? Was it just the fear of death? …

Participant: Well, it was the fear of death. [and somewhat further down in the same statement:]

Things like this, you can’t have pink ideals when the situation around here is like that. And you have to live day by day. You just cannot plan anything not even for a week. Lack of water, lack of sometimes bread…

Analyses: The reason that she changed her mind is partly because of the fear of death. Her whole way of looking at life changed as a result of death becoming so immediate. This was coded as being at the Systematic stage. She was talking about having one view of life (her first system) before the war, and having a second and totally different view of life (her second system) after the war. Further down, she is saying you can’t choose a system, you can’t have ideals - and the war is what made her that way - she couldn’t choose the path - the war made her see things on a day-to-day basis. So, this is a comparative statement about two systems: the way things would have been, and the way they ended up, but there is no explicit comparing. She articulates each one, but alternates between describing one or the other; or rather she mainly describes the new system and leaves the interviewer to understand that the old system had none of this. This was scored as relativism.

     Attachment E. Male, Age 23, Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2, Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic

[When asked to decide what was his greatest loss:]

Participant: ... but that hasn’t [happened] to me yet, though, ummm, and I’m not sure I feel comfortable saying that the biggest loss I’ve ever had in my entire life, I think for some it might be easy to do. They could tell right off, but I really have different experiences, so I could say that something was a big loss, but I’m not sure it was the most…so is that going to be…?

Analyses: He talks about one system: his set of experiences that have given him a particular set of losses. He also refers to potential other systems containing the experiences of others that may produce other losses or more losses. Because he does not co-ordinate these two together, but talks on the one hand about his experiences, and on the other hand about the experiences of others, he is at the relativism substep.

     Therapy Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2 Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic

Participant: I understand that it may not be possible to be both at the same time [to be a friend and pastor to an individual], and that what I am looking for from an individual at each particular time will be different as I am friend and pastor.

Analysis: The adult succeeds in bringing together the two roles of friend and pastor within the same individual. He alternates them in a systematic fashion so they do not conflict with one another. The adult does this by placing himself with the parishioner into two different temporal contexts. Here, there are two perspectives (from the same person) but they are not fully integrated. The transition process is not yet complete for this stage.

     Attachment J. Female, Age 25, Stage 11 Systematic-Step 3   Smash: Transition to Metasystematic

[When asked to describe her emotions after breaking up with her boyfriend:]

Participant: And yeah, I was angry too. I was angry at him because… because I knew there were some things about him that were wrong, and created these adverse reactions in me, and I didn’t really know what they were, but I was really mad at him for just being himself.

Analyses: She was angry for at least two reasons: he did things or had characteristics that were wrong, but there was almost something about her that had adverse reactions to the things he did. So she is describing a kind of multi-variable system that determines her emotion, in this case, anger. Also, just the phrase “being himself” is a systematic notion; it consists of multiple behaviors occurring at multiple times and occasions. But this is not fully metasystematic because she does not know what is driving her nuts. She does not fully specify either her self system enough, or the “other” system enough to have a clear sense of what is wrong. She is at step 3, smash, in the transition to metasystematic, and most likely at substep 1.

     Therapy Stage 11 Systematic-Step 3 Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic

Participant: I relax. I breathe. I visualize the pages ahead and the intent of playing and the feeling for the music to be expressed, all from a calm place. I keep practicing all the little snags to smooth out. I get plenty of rest, do Brain Gym and chi activities. I visualize success and calmness. I pay attention to the music and not the worry. I breathe some more, and repeat. I remember this and create it from out of my larger goals and purposes.

Analysis: The adult explains that he integrates success and calmness through visualizing both together. Also, coming from a “calm place” promotes visualization, and paying attention to the music and not the worry. Success and calmness are two “systems” that he is co-ordinating. At this point, he appears to be overgeneralizing how the two are combined. As systems, he explains how success depends on calmness, but not clearly how calmness depends on success.

     Therapy Stage 12 Metasystematic-Step 4 (0)

Participant: “To find things easily is to pursue a thought until it intersects perceptions or images of the misplaced item, to sense its presence without clearly identifying it and then it appears as if to fulfill some sense of it being there already.”

Analysis: The adult integrates “locating” and “identifying” into a subjective, intuitive system of thinking about an object. This is a strategy of “scanning and zeroing in” on the misplaced item. In this process, the adult first thinks about an item, which elicits perceptions or images of it. Then, the adult implies that he looks around for the item. The scanning is done by first using the “ground” to sense an object intuitively, and then by disembodying the object more fully so it becomes the “figure. “ At this point, the appearance of the object is gradually matched against the images of the thought about the object until the client becomes fully conscious of the object’s presence. At the end of his explanation, the client is just starting to construct the related system of objective appearances and locations. The variables of thinking about, locating, and identifying a misplaced item are fully co-ordinated into a strategy for finding misplaced items. When looking about, he first senses the item's presence without fully identifying it. At the end of the process, the item is fully located and identified, confirming the adult's “sense” of the item's location.

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 1 Negation: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

Participant: Teacher says look, we're going to tell you things that you can write down. And if you forget you can look them up in the textbook. I promise I won't tell you anything that's not in a book you can look up. And you write them down and memorize them. And then we're going to have an exam. And you tell us back and we'll check off whether you told us right and whether you told us everything. And if you did, then we'll give you an A.

     Now this is a very safe process for all concerned. There's very little risk for the faculty. I mean anybody can give an adequate lecture of that type. So it won't reveal you as a bad teacher unless you just don't prepare. It's also very safe for the student, right? Because if you do your homework, if you don’t screw around and play tennis and waste your time, you can pass almost any course that is taught that way. And the conspiracy is that neither party, neither the professor nor the student do anything to reveal that not much learning has gone on. What do I mean by not much learning has gone on? What I mean is, when you confront people with problems for which the knowledge you have transmitted is supposed to be useful later on, they can't solve them.

Analysis: Subject includes components from an educational system based on predictable outcomes and rote memorization, as well as components from a system with risk. Subject does not co-ordinate these components and gives as examples subsets of different ways of education and assessing students at the Kennedy School of Government.

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 1 Negation: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

Participant: “I want to say one more thing about this. One of the ways, that it is very difficult to evaluate a process like this, is to ask the victims or subjects of it at the time. It's characteristic of every experiment that we have made that…(in my view)…in every experiment that we have made that really involves learning, that the students and this includes mid-career adult students, hate it. Or say they hate it. They say, oh, don't do that. That's a terrible idea. They plead with us to teach statistics by the lecture method. They…we asked them for example to grade each other in class performance. We don’t do it any more. They grade each other and that's half their course grade. So they are responsible for each other and responsible to the classroom and we are no longer the policeman of classroom behavior. And they have six dozen different elaborately reasoned explanations of why that's inappropriate and unethical and why we shouldn't do that. And it's our job to grade them and so on….

Analyses: Subject includes components from an educational system based on traditional lecture-type teaching and teachers doing all the evaluation, as well as components from a system based on the case method and students’ evaluation of one another. Subject produces hits at stage 12 by describing components of an ideal system of student empowerment, but overgeneralizes by relying too much on examples and not co-ordinating components into a cohesive system –

     You know I think the best example is of Ulysses tying himself to the mast. You know, where he sails past the sirens? Do you know the story? He sails past the sirens and he knows that they're going to sing and lure the ship to its death so he says, “OK, sailors, stuff your ears with wax so everybody can't hear anything. OK now tie me to the mast and unstuff my ears. So they sail past the sirens and he hears the sirens but he can't do anything about it and they don't hear it so they keep rowing. SO he's the only man in the world who's heard them and survived. And he knew that when he heard them that if he didn't tie himself to the mast, right, if he didn't restrict his behavior. Somehow we have to trust the students that have made an agreement like this. At the same time they can not want to do this week's homework and hope that we will not listen to them. At that moment. Tricky problem.”


Moral Reasoning Stage 11 Systematic-Step 1 Negation: Transition to Metasystematic

     Participant: Alright, a business is trying to provide some product or some service to the society. Trying to make a profit. The university is trying to educate people. So obviously, the activity is going to be different… I suppose you could say that there's a certain kind of interaction that's crucial for a university's place students and faculty which doesn't have a comparable place in other kinds of institutions.

Analysis: Subject does not fully describe or co-ordinate the systems of business and education

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 1 Negation: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

      Participant: “Well, there are some people who like to think of everything as a business. It's a metaphor people use. And maybe there's some point to that, but it also can be misleading. There's a point to it in the sense that the university should worry about using its resources efficiently and should make sure that it's accomplishing its mission. But it's misleading in the sense that you can't simply take the standards that apply in a business enterprise and transfer them wholesale to a university, judge it by the same standards. You've got to realize that there's a different kind of enterprise going on.”

Analysis: Subject does not fully describe or co-ordinate the systems of business and education.

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2 Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

     Participant: Well, because, I guess these goals are sort of Aristotelian [in] that the truth is always somewhere in between. And if we used all the resources of higher education merely to prepare for a career for example then the career wouldn't be worth having because life wouldn't be worth living. I mean if what you learned was how to do your job, then there wouldn't be much point in doing the job because you couldn't enjoy anything else. Conversely, if all you did was get very good at reading books and consuming experience, you wouldn't be any good to anybody else so why we should we care that you are having a good time?

Analysis: Subject alternates between the “preparing for a career” and “getting very good at reading books and consuming experience,” without co-ordinating them.

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2 Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

     Participant: So if higher education is in the service of these three objectives, and if turns out to only be good for one of them, then, I'd say it won't even advance that one. That these aren't additive. You can't say, well, this is the Harvard School of Getting an MBA and Making a Million Dollars. The accusation that's leveled at the Business school is that all it does is teaches people to make a lot of money and not to be good people in some other sense. And then it turns out to be not worth it that they are making a lot of money. Because they are deficient in these other dimensions. So that I can't separate the quality of interdependence and talk about any one of these by themselves in isolation.

Analysis: Subject alternates between students to make money and becoming a good person without co-ordinating them.

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2 Relativism: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

     Participant: .., any large institution needs governance, which is to say that some people have to be in a position to make decisions. So the university's no different from other institutions in that respect. What may be characteristic about universities is that much of the authority is decentralized, much so than any other social institutions. And that's because it's very important to allow faculty members to have a good deal of autonomy.

Analysis: Subject does not co-ordinate the two systematic goals of governance and autonomy

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic-Step 2: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

     Participant: Whereas, if you want to call what the university does is producing a product, the product is the very interaction between students and faculty. I: Ok. What should that interaction be and why? I: What quality should it have? There are some very general features one might say as openness, willingness to explore new ideas, a willingness to question, to debate, to provide support for claims that are made...no one has monopoly or a lockhold on the truth. And if for every individual to a considerable extent has to make a judgement for him herself as to what's true. What makes sense. What connects to what.

Analysis: Subject produces a hit at stage 12, but basis for exclusion what is or isn’t an element in the ideal university system is not sharp 

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic, Step 2: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

     Participant: I think that everyone has an inclination, maybe even a desire to be certain about how the world is. Among other inclinations. And what you want to do is lead a person to perceive that they are adults, so you explore the beliefs that people have and you show where there are questions and why one has to keep a certain openness in regard to those things because they are questions.

Analysis: Subject produces a hit at stage 12, but basis for exclusion what is or isn’t an element in the ideal system of training is not sharp. 

     Good Education Stage 11 Systematic, Step 3 Smash: Transition to Metasystematic Stage

     Participant: I don't mean by that there should be some separate course in a professional school because that seems to me a way of simply keeping ethos concerns marginal … in law there is a guiding ideal that the course system should be doing justice… when a lawyer helps two parties write a contract, the lawyer should have some understanding of what a fair contract is and what equal bargaining is. I: Why? W: Those are moral notions. Because this is a way of treating people with respect.”

Analysis: Subject correctly rejects reducing moral concerns to a marginal level, but under generalizes the need for respect to one professional area, the law.

     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: It's important because in almost all aspects of the society where people are involved day by day, the professional business bureaucratic demands upon people--let us say for the moment, relatively educated people in the entirely conventional sense of having gotten a certain number of degrees or something--are such that they neither make nor are given the time and I think soon lose the energy to find the time to think critically of what they are doing and learn a variety of ways to absorb the mainstream lessons of their society or to work within the alternatives that the society considers respectable and suitable alternatives, as whatever, as the Democrats and the Republicans or between this college or that, or this or that job, whatever it might be. So that there are few institutions which have the luxury as it were, or the capacity to get people to think outside the context of any one pursuit and to think about themselves and their society better with that extent distanced.


Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. The subject clearly defines her/his ideal system of a moral education with a definitive goal of integrating the self-system with society, although this goal should be accomplished along with the student receiving a practical skill. The subject passes at Stage 12 because they are able to describe a system which has a clearly defined method integrating these two goals– “ ideally the institutions should make one competent to work within the profession and it's too obvious to mention when you get to areas like surgery or building bridges, but the notion of competence for the law is far more complex, but there is clearly a sense of an ability to deal with the materials to grasp and to understand their various possibilities and so on. On the other hand, simply to train people to that competence which would enable them to play the professional role and serve any set of interests, which in my mind would be an inadequate way of thinking of the role of the school as such, that is, it should have the role of making the student not only aware of the professional tradition, but critical of the professional tradition.


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: Whereas if you stay within a narrow conception of technique and professionalism---which inevitably, you do, in any professional school. If you're studying the bone structure of the body, you don't want to develop the forms of democratic government necessarily in the same course. But a school that offered no opportunity to see what it was doing relationally, too, in the sense of what life the individual ought to lead or the understanding of the character of your own society. What I think failed by making the professional think that professionalism and work consisted of the boundaries where the boundaries or the boundaries of technique taught in the school. There were no larger issues present.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject successfully describes a cohesive system with sharply defined criteria for what determines a good or bad education. Subject successfully integrates the goal of professional competence with the goal of broadening the professional student’s understanding of his/her role in society.


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: All are theories that rest upon different ethical assumptions of what society is and what the role of law and society is and what either has achieved which often blends into what people think it ought to achieve and people create their histories which are open to many interpretations which often, you know, consist of the way they think of what the society ought to be. So it's just become a prevalent way of thinking about law. To understand why the rule says one thing rather than another or the standard or the principle or why the Constitution or whatever interprets it to mean this rather than can't be understood with any strict system that extrudes history, morals, political theory, even psychology, sociology, a whole variety of perceptions that inform the lawmaker, whether you're talking with a judge or a legislator.


Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject successfully describes a cohesive system with sharply defined criteria for what determines a good or bad legal education. Subject successfully integrates the goal of legal competence with the goal of broadening the law student’s understanding of his/her role in society.


     Good Government Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: I mean there's a sense in which we respect ourselves more and respect each other to the extent we are self-governing rather than taking orders. Um. There is a sense a purely efficiency sense in which you tend to keep the most corrupt and most venal and most crooked out of office---at least you can bounce them from office if there's some conception of electoral or democratic control as opposed to having no control over the guys. And there's a conception of self-development through, you know, not thinking what your life can be entirely your business and private and other people are going to run the joint so as you start to participate and you start to think more of the polity and we start to think more the society you're living and ideally, we take that as part of your responsibility to think about others who think about the society and not simply say, my domain is entirely my life.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject successfully describes a cohesive governmental system with sharply defined criteria for what determines a good government. Subject successfully integrates the goal of legal competence with the goal of self-development and the citizen’s responsibility to society.


     Good Government Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: That denied people important possibilities of participation that dictated rather than saw itself in some fashion of the community of the people themselves that did evil things, that denied respect, that humiliated, that discriminated…

Interviewer: Why would that be evil?

Participant: Well, you're back to fundamental, I mean, formal premises intuitively because it would create systemic official differences, discriminations among people in a way that denied to them, denied some basic notion of equal worth… you ask why say that, why not some more than others and in many respects, some are better than others. Morally, or in talents or in one thing or another. But in modern terms of respect as human beings which they inherit so that would deny that, would I think true to some, hierarchically, traumatically whatever superior to others. And deny participation to all or some and to deny respect by crushing all of those possibilities of human expression or discovery or gaining more freedom that we talked about earlier.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject describes a system which has sharply defines a bad versus and good government. Subject successfully integrates the two themes of superiority in some individuals with the theme of equal respect .


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: I'm not certain that I would want some veto power but it would probably be on the grounds similar to Constitutional grounds vetoing what Congress does. If it violates fundamental principles. So I'm unclear what the relationship between the president and the faculty should be, but it would move more heavily towards faculty subject to very few restraints and faculty participation going toward a great voice whether or not it would fully [allow] election of the dean and faculty committees and things of that sort. But I think the president is functioning. I think the faculty could get all locked up. They could all become one thing and refuse to hire anyone outside who's not part of that model. Or they could develop vendettas and become very destructive and drive people out on personal or ideological grounds… It would become a closed institution rather than an open institution. And I think part of the role of the president might be to assure that a university remains, not equally open to everything, but remains an institution in which ideas have a chance to develop and there's no formal closure to any of the competing the set of ways of thinking about a subject.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject describes a system which has sharply defines a bad versus and good university government. Subject successfully integrates the two themes of openness with the theme of structure.


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: If you believe in what an institution should be, then you should act for it. Because there's a problem when you're hierarchically in the administration under someone's dean for a lot of reasons I don't someone at MIT who's going to be publicly criticizing me. Fax friend Peter. I want someone's who's supporting me. That's my team. I gotta get things done. Gotta count on you. But a faculty member's not anyone's team. A faculty member is an independent functioning human being. It has a responsibility, I think, certainly the right, whether or not if they have the responsibility, to act in that way… If I were vice-president or something of the sort. In an important way. I wouldn't stop criticizing, but I'd do it internally more than externally.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject successfully describes an ideal system of university government which integrates the goals of supporting the institution and being a responsible critic of same.


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: The reasons for it may lie in the subconscious, but at least we all know, it's---you know you're lying. I think that you deny your respect for me. You know, that really bothers me. I: Why? S: You're manipulating me. You're not treating me as someone real. And you may be doing it— if you've got a point to fight out on the university paper, I think that you learn early in life that you do it directly. You don't get around it by lying. You say, Mr. Administrator, thanks, but no thanks or yes, I will bow to pressure if you don't want it published. Rest assured, I'm a goody, I'm not. If your superiors lie to you. That's why the whole idea of censoring the thing is bad. You learn that when you're in authority, you're going to crush someone who threatens to reveal something that's embarrassing to you. Going to publish. Or you say, keep your hands off our papers, if you try to censor this at all, we're going to be responsible, or we're going to try to be or whatever you're going to try to say.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject correctly rejects lying, particularly by those in authority, as inconsistent with an ideal university system based on respect and responsibility.


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: Although the university, I think did seem to be acting abusively-the way you put it---around the facts that I've imagined. If it were anything more than inquiry and urging you to take great care with this story and assure that it's correct if there going to publish it and to think hard about it. Stonewall? I think it's a bad way to get out things. It’s a hard way to get out of things. You… it’s a very… and you're teaching a lesson by doing that.”

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject correctly rejects lying, particularly by

those in authority, as inconsistent with an ideal system of morality based on truth – “


     Good Education Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: if it passes for acceptable for personal authority is able then, to denigrate particular constituents. If the uneducated, the poor, the minorities, women, whatever he wants to do. So that if it passes in the classroom, it's, uh, you know. It's like, um, whatever, um,… a president of this country denigrating a particular other people's for this or that or denigrating all Communists or whatever. I: Ok S: Whatever it might be. Or a Palestinian denigrating all Jews or an Israeli leader denigrating all Palestinians. It legitimates that fine dilemma. I:

Interviewer: Why?

Participant: Because it's from a person in a position of authority.

Interviewer: Why is that important---that he's in authority.

Participant: The legitimation because when people with formal authority speak others listen more than they do to someone they can dismiss down the street and that person gains an audience and the press has a lot more power to disseminate and you may have the power, even more significant, to write your views into some form of official conduct by your policies in the classroom.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. Subject correctly rejects denigration and lack of respect, particularly by those in authority, as inconsistent with promoting and supporting an ideal system of morality based on truth.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: Like you could maybe go to jail for stealing, you know. That's a little bit like civil disobedience and Thoreau and so on, not quite the same thing, but you're standing up for the principle which human life is more important on this particular equation more than property and are willing to take the consequences even if it means that you're going to jail… And I think that this notion of say being willing to take the consequences, if there are, such there are social consequences for, and the willingness to make the reparation to the druggist. I mean, there's the problem of an unjust price, in this situation, there are so many complex moral issues—There are many ways in which you could express your willingness to comport with a social system and still not outrage you in various ways.

Analysis: Pass at metasystematic Stage 12. Subject successfully describes an ideal system of morality with preservation of life over property in a hierarchal value system, but integrates this theme with the theme of preserving social order.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Unless you say that this is an idiosyncratic occasion. I mean, it's never going to happen again and you've got the whole human tragedy there and it's not going to hurt you to give and I suppose that I would feel in that circumstance, I'd consume all of that, yes. I should give. I can't bear the responsibility for not doing it. But I'd also feel a great rage. Why am I doing it in my society? Why am I called upon? Why shouldn't the society be doing it in some structured way? Through tax systems, welfare systems, whatever it might be. And I find it hard to believe that this would be that isolated case, you see.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12 – Subject describes an ideal system which would meet peoples’ needs in emergencies rather than relying on the unpredictable and haphazard intervention of individuals, contrasting this ideal system with one that places an unreasonable and sometimes impossible burden on any particular individual who may be confronted with such situations.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: The market is not functioning by definition when you're price-gouging and since most justification for prices rests on some assumed structure of competitiveness applying demand and if you don't like my drug prices, go to someone else, if you don't like my towing service in the road, go to someone else. All of that collapses when you're broken down on the road and I'm the only towing company that's willing to come out and get you for a thousand bucks and you're the only person with this rating on them--that's all. We're talking about what an economist would call a monopolist situation and monopoly pricing raises serious issues with respect to the public good. Why give one person all that power to profit self at the expense of much public suffering in this situation elsewhere?

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12 – Subject describes an ideal economic system devoted to the public good, and correctly rejects any monopolistic system as being inconsistent with such a system.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: Entrepreneurial skill, running out of the game, taking a risk, all of those seem, simply on a utilitarian basis, which I would come back to the diminution of welfare to the druggist seems to be a relatively trivial matter if you were still allowing some normal business and profit compared with the enormous harm you're creating for others. If people try to justify this out of ignorance, you have whole elaborate attempts at social or political theory that been to justify one or another set of arrangements. I think where you're dealing with, particularly in matters like health which hurt you very strongly, life and death, it seems to go back to some fundamental lack of respect or any perception of equal humanity to allow one person to appropriate so much that could be helping so many others in a vital way

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12. The subject describes an ideal economic system that places life and health over promoting entrepreneurial skill and risk-taking.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: He should repent and embrace him like a brother…well, he should certainly try to understand why Heinz is doing this. I suppose that would be…or Heinz should try to get him to understand why he is doing this…there's always the possibility that he will understand Heinz's. . the death of Heinz's motivations and see why Heinz used this as a moral act and perhaps that point of view may be persuasive to him. He can empathize with Heinz to some degree and see it as he would if it were his wife and if he didn't have the money then he may rethink the morality of his own conduct and wonder if he should not act differently in the circumstances… Ideally, I mean,…what I'm stressing is that it would be best if we had a character that would empathetically identify with and see the dilemma and think it through by feeling and understanding the thing rather than someone who saw it clearly in terms of property rights and property right protection.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12 – The subject describes an ideal personal moral system for the druggist based on empathy and placing life over property.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     What right has the stranger to say Heinz, you lower your welfare by subjecting yourself to a prison sentence by stealing this drug to me. I think relationships here are vitally important the way we understand our moral responsibilities. We have to---either, I think they are personal and individual through love or affect or one or another close, or they are systemic and social. Handling the social problem as a whole. I find it very hard to work out the moral in between. Between the, you know, two, four, eight, twenty, whatever they are, people who would be within our intimate circle and the millions and millions and millions who might be making claims on us.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystem Stage 12. Subject describes an ideal system which would integrate the two themes of personal and social responsibility.


     Moral Reasoning Stage 12 Metasystematic, Step 0 (4)


     Participant: The doctor inevitably gives part of his welfare to patients maybe by subjecting self to disease by working with a communicable disease pairing. That's part of the effort of helping. Suppose the doctor simply asks for the four thousand dollars to pay for the drug. It's hard for me again to see why individually, this doctor is under this responsibility with this person and why not the same responsibility to every other poor patient who comes in. I think the doctor is under an obligation, I would say, to work toward some system which will make it possible for the people he's seeing to have a possibility of getting these jobs or getting help. And again, I don't think that he has to expose his whole welfare and bankbook and family or whatever, to the demands of individual patients. And I wouldn't know again where it stopped. to I think that there are limits to what his sense of responsibility is.

Analysis: Pass at Metasystematic Stage 12 – The subject describes an ideal system integrating the doctors’ personal moral responsibility for providing some of her/his patients with free services with the general responsibility of society for providing medical treatment for all.

     Table 1. Behaviors may form classes. Stimuli may be placed into classes both functionally and analytically.

Order of Hierarchical Complexity





Simple Machine Arithmetic on 0's and 1's


Sensory & Motor

Either seeing circles, squares, etc. or instead, touching them. O ■


Circular Sensory-motor

Reaching and grasping a circle or square. O ■



A class of filled in squares may be formed ■ ■ ■ ■ ■



That class may be named, “Squares”



The numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 may be said in order



The objects in row 5 may be counted. The last count called 5, five, cinco, etc

     * * * * *                    ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

     O O O O O                ■ / ○ □



There are behaviors that act on such classes that we call simple arithmetic operations

     1 + 3   = 4 

     5 + 15 = 20

     5(4)    = 20 

     5(3)    = 15

     5(1)    = 5



There are behaviors that order the simple arithmetic behaviors when multiplying a sum by a number. Such distributive behaviors require the simple arithmetic behavior as a prerequisite, not just a precursor

5(1 + 3) = 5(1) + 5(3) = 5 + 15 = 20



All the forms of five in the five rows in the example are equivalent in value, x = 5. Forming class based on abstract feature



The general left hand distributive relation is

x * (y + z) = (x * y) + (x * z) 



The right hand distribution law is not true for numbers but is true for proportions and sets.

x + (y * z) = (x * y) + (x * z) 

x ⊔ (y ⊓ z) = (x ⊓ y) ⊔ (x ⊓ z) 



The system of propositional logic and elementary set theory are isomorphic

       x & (y or z) = (x & y) or (x & z) Logic

 ⇔ x ⊓ (y ⊔ z) = (x ⊓ y) ⊔ (x ⊓ z) Sets

      T(False) ⇔ φ Empty set

      T(True) ⇔ Ω Universal set


&        =   and

         =   is equivalent to

         =   intersection (overlap, elements in common)

         =   union (total elements)

T         =   Transformation of



φ         =   Empty set (no elements)

Ω         =   Universal set (all the elements there can be)

(Ex)    = There exists some element x

(x)      =   For all x

(Hx)    =   The action on element x





Table 2 The 9-child Jones family 

Order of Hierarchical Complexity





The clock blasts out a noise waking the first.


Sensory &Motor

The first coos “aaaa”


Circular Sensory Motor

The second babbles “wa wa wa”



The third upon seeing water goes “wa”



The fourth says “water”



The fifth says “give water”



The sixth says “I like coke. Give me coke.”



The seventh says “give me coke and I will be happy.”



The eight says “Let me give my younger brother a coke and have some too.”



One parent, who performs at the abstract order says, “What a big, happy family.” When asked why, that parent says “Because we are happy.”



The other parent, says “We are a big happy family because we all work hard at it.



The first grandparent says, “Where did we do wrong in bringing up our children that they are so dumb? They act like everything is O.K. But we have to give them a house to live in and a car to drive because they have so many kids and such poorly paying jobs.”



The second grandparent says, “Why did I marry such a fool? I never knew whether to marry a caring spouse our one who knew what worked. Now I know I was the idiot, because caring and being effective conflict.”



In family therapy with all of them, the therapists suggest that they all together construct a consistent supersystem to include as much as possible, all their perspectives. They spend a year co-constructing such a perspective supersystem.



Table 3 General Description of Sequence




Vocalizations and words

Verbal relationships








sensory & motor actions

Babbling (Universal)




circular sensory-motor actions



Gestures, “aa”




Phoneme action relationships

Holding cup out and saying “wa”



Single words: ejaculatives & exclamations, verbs, nouns, number names, letter names

Relating concepts to others through a word

Says "water"




Incomplete sentences; then complete sentences, crude dichotomies, ordered numbers & letters

States a rule "Don't touch"




Multiple sentence stories with logically order sequenced events. Counting materials laid out in a line

Says "The water is filling the bathtub"




Stories with logically order sequenced events connected solidly to reality with some specified times, places, acts, actors. Either perspective of self or other.

The water is filling the bathtub so I can take a bath



times, places, acts, actors

Stories about things, incidents, events, actors, actions, places in the context of the interaction between self and other.

If I turn on the faucet, the water will run out and fill the bathtub. My parents like it when I fill the tub myself. They are more willing to buy me clothes when I am always clean.



Variable time, place, act, actor, state, type; Quantifies (all, none, some) play an important role in the preadolescent's formulation of categorical assertions (e.g., "All teachers do that!").

Variable time, places, acts, actors, state, type

Variables such as Stereotypes,

Logical Quantification Words: all, none, some, never, sometimes, always, no one, somebody, everyone

Propositions with variables

The water can run out quickly or slowly and the temperature may get colder after awhile.

All teachers do that!



Words: linear, logical, one dimensional

Variables connected by "if... then" and other relations.

Empirical, or logical evidence and argument. Relations among Variables

Single variables on input side

Empirical, or logical evidence and argument.

Turning of a faucet changes the size of the opening of the passage way and thereby controlling the amount of flow.



Systems words appear in adult's utterances: legal system, society, our company, the economy, the country.

Systems of relations. Relations among relationship among variables

For slow flows, amount of flow is controlled by 1) Water pressure, 2) size of faucet opening 3) smallest of pipe size to source.



Metalogical, meta-analytic words appear. Properties of systems can be considered: homomorphic, isomorphic, incomplete, inconsistent system, consistent system, incomplete system, complete system, incommensurable system, orders of complexity of the system, commensurable systems, etc.  

Supersystems of systems

The systems that describe non-turbulent water flow and electric flow (amperes) are isomorphic. Flow equals pressure (volts) x resistence (ohms)



Newly created paradigmatic words are used whether metasystems may be integrated.


There are many metasystems that belong to non-relativistic and non statistical mechanics



Newly created word about integration of paradigms.


By crossing mathematics and physical experimentation, classical mechanics arises.

Table 4a General Description of Hierarchy



Order or Stage





Exact–no generalization



sensory & motor actions

Rote, Generalized

Babbling (Universal)


circular sensory-motor actions

Open-Ended Classes








Relations among concepts

Single words: ejaculatives & exclamations, verbs, nouns, number names, letter names



Imitates and acquires sequences. Follows short sequential acts

Pronouns: my, mine, I; yours, you; we, ours; they, them



Simple deduction but contradiction is not excluded. Follows lists of sequential acts

Connectives: as, when, then, why, before



Simple logical deduction and empirical rules involving time sequence. Simple arithmetic

Times, places, acts, actors



Full arithmetic

Interactions, social events, what happened among others



Discriminates variables such as Stereotypes; Logical Quantification; (all, none, some)

Variable time, place, act, actor, state, type; Quantifies (all, none, some); Categorical assertions (e.g., "All teachers do that!").



Argue using empirical or logical evidence. Logic is linear, 1 dimensional.

Words: linear, logical, one dimensional, if... then, thus, therefore, because.



Constructs multi variate systems and matrices, coordinating more than one variable. Events and ideas situated in a larger context.

Systems: legal system, society, our company, the economy, the country.



Integrate systems to construct multisystems. Compare systems and perspectives in a systematic way (across multiple domains). Reflects on systems.

Metalogical, meta-analytic. Properties of systems named: homomorphic, isomorphic, incomplete, inconsistent or consistent, incomplete or complete, commensurable, incommensurable



Discriminate how to fit metasystems together to form new paradigms




Discriminate how to form new fields by crossing paradigms.




Table 4b General Description of Sequence






Vocalizations and words

Verbal relationships


Receptive speech examples




Exact–no generalization







sensory & motor actions

Rote, Generalized

Babbling (Universal)






circular sensory-motor actions

Open-Ended Classes



gestures, “aa”

Follows one act directions






phoneme action relationships

Holding cup out and saying “wa”

Follows simple commands




Relations among concepts

Single words: ejaculatives & exclamations, verbs, nouns, number names, letter names


Says "water"

Follows simple chain of commands such as:




Imitates and acquires sequences. Follows short sequential acts.


incomplete sentences; then complete sentences, crude dichotomies, ordered numbers & letters

States a rule "Don't touch"

Follows instructions: "Turn off VCR when tape is over"






Multiple sentence stories with logically order sequenced events. Counting materials laid out in a line

Says "The water is filling the bathtub"





Simple logical deduction and empirical rules involving time sequence. Simple arithmetic

times, places, acts, actors

Stories with logically order sequenced events connected solidly to reality.

The water is filling the bathtub so I can take a bath

Can follow directions without being supervised for an extended period of time.




Full arithmetic

interactions, social events, what happened with among others.

Stories with some specified times, places, acts, actors, and the relation among the above. Things, Incidents, Events, Actors, Actions, Places

If I turn on the faucet, the water will run out and fill the bathtub.





Discriminates variables such as Stereotypes; Logical Quantification; (all, none, some)

Variable time, place, act, actor, state, type; Quantifies (all, none, some) play an important role in the preadolescent's formulation of categorical assertions (e.g., "All teachers do that!").

Variable time, place, act, actor, state, type

Variables such as Stereotypes,

Logical Quantification Words: all, none, some,

Propositions with variables

The water can run out quickly or slowly

and the temperature may get colder after awhile.

All teachers do that!

All teachers do that!




Argumentation contains empirical or logical evidence.

Logical reasoning is linear, logical, one dimensional.

Words: linear, logical, one dimensional

Variables connected by "if... then" and other relations.

Empirical, or logical evidence and argument. Relations among Variables

Single variables on input side

Empirical, or logical evidence and argument.






The adult constructs multi variate systems and matrices, coordinating more than one variable as input. Events and ideas can be situated in a larger context.

Systems words appear in adult's utterances: legal system, society, our company, the economy, the country.

Systems of relations. Relations among relationship among variables






Some adults can integrate systems to construct multisystems. Comparison of systems and perspectives occurs in a systematic way (i.e., across multiple domains).

The metasystematic adult reflects on systems.

Metalogical, meta-analytic words appear. Properties of systems can be considered: homomorphic, isomorphic, incomplete, inconsistent system, consistent system, incomplete system, complete system, incommensurable system, orders of complexity of the system, commensurable systems, etc.   

Supersystems of systems






There are a few adults who can discriminate how to fit metasystems together to form new paradigms








Historically there a few people who have discriminated how to form new fields by crossing paradigms.







Levels of Support


Expanding upon Vygotsky's (1966a, 1966b) notion of scaffolding, we introduce seven values of stimulus control (Dimension 3). Think of these as levels of independence of control by stimuli autonomy in responding to stimuli. Each level changes the relative difficulty of a task. Level of support or demand given during problem solving derived from Arlin (1975, 1984), Fischer et al. (1984), Gewirtz (1969), and Vygotsky (1962; 1966). The name of support is stated and how it changes the measured order of performance relative to unaided problem solving. Then the action with respect to the subject is stated. The explanations follow.


Table 5 Level of support

Support number and Name

Change in measured complexity

Form of support






Being moved though each step.

Literally being moved through each step of how to solve a problem.

Part of the stimulus is the push that guides the movement.


Transfer of stimulus control


Being told each step (direct instruction).

Do a task based on a set of verbal instructions or other direct stimuli telling one what to do.

Train a discrimination with one set of stimuli on one task. Use the same set of stimuli to control performance in another task. Slowly remove first set of stimuli. This is like an errorless learning procedure (Moore & Goldiamond, 1964; Terrace, 1963).


Pervasive imitation


Being shown.

Includes delayed imitation or observational learning (Gewirtz, 1969). The imitated action may be written, depicted or otherwise reproduced.

Fischer and Lazerson (1984) call this form of control the optimal level.




No help or support is given.

Problem-solving or hacking (without support).

Fischer and Lazerson (1984) call this the functional level. Most of Piaget’s work was at this level.


Problem finding


In addition, to not getting help, one must discover a task to answer a known question.

Persons are given an issue and they are asked to give a example of a problem that reflects that issue.

Arlin (1975, 1977, 1984) introduced postformal complexity (systematic order) by requiring the construction of a formal-operational problem without aid or definition.


Question finding


In addition, to not getting help and having to discover, one must

discover the question

With a known phenomenon, people find a problem and an instance in which to solve that problem.

One has to discriminate the phenomenon clearly enough to create and solve a problem based on that discrimination.

6.  Phenomenon finding


No direct stimulus control is possible without a description of phenomenon.

Discovering a new phenomenon.

No reinforcement history with phenomenon.


Table 6a Deconstruction in the Transition Steps





Dialectical Form

0 (4)


a = a' with b'

Temporary equilibrium point (thesis)

Previous stage synthesis does not solve all tasks. (Deconstruction Begins) Extinction Process




Negation or complementation (antithesis)

Negation or complementation, Inversion, or alternate thesis. Subject forms a second synthesis of previous stage actions). (antithesis)



a or b

Relativism (alternation of thesis and antithesis)

Relativism. Alternates among thesis and antithesis. The schemes coexist, but there no coordination of them). (alternation of thesis and antithesis)


Table 6b Construction in the Transition Steps



a and b

Smash (attempts at synthesis)

The following substeps transitions in synthesis.




Hits and Excess False Alarms and Misses

Elements from a and b are included in a non-systematic, non-coordinated manner. Incorporates various subsets of all the possible elements.




Hit and Excess False Alarms.

Incorporates subsets producing hits at stage n. Basis for exclusion not sharp. Over generalization




Correct Rejections and Excess Misses

Incorporates subsets that produce correct rejections at stage n. Produces misses. Basis for inclusion not sharp. Under generalization



a with b 

New temporary equilibrium (synthesis and new thesis)

New temporary equilibrium (synthesis and new thesis)



Personality and Transition in Performance Table 7


In personality, steps in adults tend to be stable but substeps are not.



Step 0

Fault finders

At low orders of performance in the social domain, this may result in antisocial behavior. These people perceive tremendous unfairness. People get stuck on this here because much of their current order behavior is maintained by “punishment” that reinforces the failure behavior. They have experienced a huge drop in perceived reinforcement rate because they see the failures of the behavior of the present order to obtain what others do. They quite often have unshakable negative depressive scripts.

Step 1

Nay sayers

May consist of persons who enter therapy, rebels, radicals, discontents. They have given up their old ways. If A is wrong, then the opposite of A is right. There is the second largest drop in reinforcement rate because they drop their previous successful behavior from A and substitute behavior from B for it.

Step 2


Clinically at its worst, they may be Narcissists (Situationalists) or Borderlines (That nothing works proves no one loves them). In this culture, it is quite often the largest group. They fill academia. They stop progress by insisting that there is more than one way to look at things but cannot decide. There is some gain in reinforcement but the conflict between whether to chose A or B produces anxiety, angst, mood swings and uncertainty about roles, values etc.

Step 3


They are moving from smash to consolidate. They create great trouble for themselves and others by throwing ideas and actions together in a creative haphazard way, taking a great deal of risk.

Step 4


Everything is OK if it is not OK. They avoid conundrums, apparent contradiction, comparisons to people they look up to. Everything is good enough.



Layers of Contingency Setting

Michael Lamport Commons


Institutional atmosphere and Cultural atmosphere refer to the dynamic relationship between an institution and those individuals who comprise it. Atmosphere includes the contingencies that affect individual behavior within an organization and the methods by which contingencies are set. We define a contingency as a relationship between events (i.e., behaviors or responses) and outcomes. Consequences that increase the likelihood of the event that they follow are termed reinforcers. Consequences that a participant will avoid what have followed behavior are termed punishers and negative reinforcers. What the environment contributes to behavior, we suggest, can be described in terms of contingent relations among events. We also maintain that the reasoning of individual members within any institutional or family setting has significant bearing upon organizational atmosphere. As reasoning develops in complexity, individuals are increasingly discriminating the perspectives of others, and of evaluating and integrating competing perspectives. These skills are integrated into the formal and informal policymaking and policy enforcement structures of the organization. The explicit statements of perceived organizational contingencies are referred to as verbalized causal rules or contingencies (Commons, Kantrowitz, Buhlman, Ellis, & Grotzer, 1984). The implicit perceptions of causality are the perceived causal rules or contingencies.


     In order to characterize atmosphere at the level of organizational macro structure, we believe that it is necessary to examine the individual contingencies embodied in atmosphere, which constitute the organizational micro structure (Goffman, 1963). Micro structure and macro structure are inseparable. Atmosphere is, therefore, a characterization of the sum of individual contingencies operative within an organization and as Kohlberg emphasized, their justifications (Kohlberg, 1984). Atmosphere, therefore, refers to the manner in which the institution and individuals either constrain or motivate the development of individuals and the development of the organization.





Table 8 Talk Radio Example

Michael L. Commons, Ph.D., Patricia Roy


Whose Contingencies

Stated reasons for behavior and for conditioning





Received some punishment

Listens to other saying they feel alienated

Calls in

Gets listened to

Talk-Show Host

Money and Axe to Grind

Gets call

Engages Audience, Listen, Comments, Soliloquizes

Audience comment, Money


Money and Power

Auditions, previous experience, recommendations

Set contingencies for Talk Show Host. Informs Host of Ratings, Problems, Feedback, Studies’ Results

Talk show host behaves better, Station renews show, Producers increased price of package O.K.’D, % to producer

Radio Station


CEO, Board of Directors

Lumped here but could be separated

Money, Name recognition, spill over to other shows

Proposal and data from producer

Gives Contract to Producer and Host, Pays producer Advertises Show, Sells time to Advertisers

Ups ratings, Sells more advertising to adjacent shows, gets more money.

Advertising Agency

Contract for Advertising product. More business. More power, money by selling product.

Demographics of Audience, Previous experience with outlet.

Buys Air time, Put on advertisements

Contract renewed if product sales and/or name recognition improves


Increase Sales and Name recognition

Proposal, previous performance, reputation of Agency

Contract with Advertising Agency

Increase in sales, market share, profitability, name recognition


Prefers Good Products and services and lower risk for trying such, prefers to be entertained

Hears advertisement while listening to show

Buys product or Services

“Enjoys” the effects of products or services



Table 9

Classification of organizations as minimally requiring the following stages.


Order of Complexity


                                              GSM  Social Piagetian              Structure


Individual vendor                 7         2         Primary                individual

Individual vendors                8         2/3      Concrete              clique

Family or Individual's

     Company                        9         3         Abstract               group

Single niche company          10       3/4      Formal                 bureaucracy

Regular small to large          11       4         Systematic           institutional


Learning and Developing     12       5         Metasystematic   universal

     Company (See Linda Morris)



Table 10

Sections of Companies

Order of Complexity


                                              GSM  Social Piagetian              Structure


Individual cleaning person   7         2         Primary                individual

Individual physical laborer   8         2/3      Concrete              clique

Filing Clerks, Typists           9         3         Abstract               group

Secretaries, Technicians       10       3/4      Formal                 bureaucracy

     Whistle Blowers

Managers, Professionals       11       4         Systematic           institutional

     in Organizations they manage

Innovators & Leaders           12       5         Metasystematic   universal

Appellate Court Judges


Table 11: Levels of Reflection of Actions Governed by Implicit and Explicit Rules

                                                   Dimension 4

Dimension 5                        Basis for Action:

Basis for Reasoning:             Implicit          Explicit    Tappan's Corresponding

                                             Rules Rules    Analysis as Modified by Commons: 

                                               |                |                |

Action & Decision                |                |                |    Action Controlled by

Including Use of                   |                |           |    Someone Else's Rules

Implicit Rules                     |                |                |

                                              |                |                |


                                              |                |                |

Present Action                |                |                |    Action Controlled by

(Expressed Decision)            |                |                |    Someone Else's Past Rules

(Melioration Theory)            |                |                |    & Action is Shadowed

(No memory)                        |                |                |    (Reflective)  

                                              | | |

                                              |                |                | 

Past Action                           |                |                |    Past Action

(Expressed Decisions)          |                |                |    Description of Actions

(Melioration Theory)            |                |                |    Guides Action

(Memory)                 |                |                |    (Reflective)

                                              | | |

                                              |                |                |

Prospective Action               |                |                |    Prospective Action

(Expressed Decision)            |                |                |    Pragmatic Description of

(Melioration Theory)            |                |                |    Action Guides Action 

(Memory applied)                 |                |                |    (Reflective)


                                               |                |                | 

Prospective Action               |                |                |    Pragmatic Explanation of

With Explanation                 |                |                |    of Value & Structure

(Would)                                |                |                |    in Cognitions

                                              |                |                |    (Meta-reflective)


                                              |                |                | 

Prescriptive Action               |                |                |    Normative: Combination

(Ought or Should)                |                |                |    of Value & Structure

                                              |                |                |    in Cognitions

                                               |                |         |    (3d Order Reflective)


                                              |                |                |

Reflective Actions                |                |                |    Justification of Normative

(How to Prescribe)               |                |                |    system

                                              |                |                |    (4th Order Reflective) 

                                              |                |                |    Epistemic Cognitions



Authors' Note


Theo Dawson made valuable contributions to this manual. Requests for reprints should be sent to Michael L. Commons, Ph.D., Lecturer and Research Associate, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Mental Health Center, 74 Fenwood Road, Boston, MA 02115-6196.




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     *Commons, M. L., & Hallinan, P. W., with Fong, W., & McCarthy, K.  (1990).  Intelligent pattern recognition: Hierarchical organization of concepts. In M. L. Commons, R. J. Herrnstein, S. M. Kosslyn, & D. B. Mumford (Eds.), Quantitative analyses of behavior: Vol. 9. Computational and clinical approaches to pattern recognition and concept formation (pp. 127-154). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

     *Commons, M. L., Jenisch, J., & Straughn, J. B. (submitted). Operant conditioning and the sense of free will: A response to the libertarian position.


     Commons, M. L., Kantrowitz, S., Buhlman, R. A., Ellis, J. B., & Grotzer, T. A. (1984). Immediately detecting a causal-relation stimulus embedded in similarly appearing possible causal relations. In M. L. Commons, M. C. Davison, J. A. Nevin, (Eds), Models of Behavior: Vol. 11, Signal Detection. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


     *Commons, M. L., Krause, S. R., Fayer, G. A., & Meaney, M. (1993). Atmosphere and stage development in the workplace. In J. Demick & P. M. Miller. Development in the workplace (pp. 199-220). Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum: Associates.


     *Commons, M. L., Lee, P., Gutheil, T. G., Goldman, M., Rubin, E. & Appelbaum, P. S. (1995). Moral stage of reasoning and the misperceived "duty" to report past crimes (misprision). International Journal of Law and Psychiatry., 18(4), 415-424.


     Commons, M. L., & Miller, P. M. (1998). A quantitative behavior-analytic theory of development.

Mexican Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior. 24(2) 153-180.


     *Commons, M. L., Miller, P. M., & Kuhn, D.  (1982).  The relation between formal operational reasoning and academic course selection and performance among college freshmen and sophomores.  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 3, 1-10.


     *Commons, M. L., & Richards, F. A. (1995). Behavior analytic approach to dialectics of stage performance and stage change. Behavioral Development, 5(2), 7-9.


     Commons, M. L., & Richards, F. A.  (1984a).  A general model of stage theory. In M. L. Commons, F. A. Richards, & C. Armon (Eds.), Beyond formal operations: Vol. 1. Late adolescent and adult cognitive development (pp. 120-140).  New York: Praeger.


     Commons, M. L., & Richards, F. A.  (1984b).  Applying the general stage model.  In M. L. Commons, F. A. Richards, & C. Armon (Eds.), Beyond formal operations: Vol. 1. Late adolescent and adult cognitive development (pp. 141-157).  New York: Praeger.


     *Commons, M. L., Richards, F. A., & Armon, C. (Eds.).  (1984). Beyond formal operations: Vol. 1.

Late adolescent and adult cognitive development. New York: Praeger.


     *Commons, M. L., Richards, F. A., & Armon, C. (1986). More than a "valuable scorecard." Reply to Keating, D. B. (1986). Beyond Piaget: The evolving debate. Contemporary Psychology, 30(6), 449-450.] Contemporary Psychology, 31(6), 470-471.


     *Commons, M. L., Richards, F. A., & Kuhn, D.  (1982).  Systematic and metasystematic reasoning: A case for a level of reasoning beyond Piaget's formal operations.  Child Development, 53, 1058-1069.


     Commons, M. L., & Rodriguez, J. A. (1990). "Equal access" without "establishing" religion: The necessity for assessing social perspective-taking skills and institutional atmosphere. Developmental Review, 10, 323-340.


     Commons, M. L., Rodriguez, J. A. (1993). The development of hierarchically complex equivalence classes. Psychological Record, 43, 667-697.


     *Commons, M. L., Stein, S. A., & Richards, F. A. (April, 1987). A general model of stage theory: Stage

of a task. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Child Development, Baltimore, MD.


     *Commons, M. L., Strachan, D. D., Rodriguez, J. A., & Barnett, M. A. (1987, January).  The effect

of moral judgment stage on the utility function form in young adults: The decision to sacrifice one's own grades to keep tutoring commitments. Paper presented at the symposium "From moral action to judgement and back: The relationships between action and stage" in Cambridge, MA.


     Commons, M. L., Trudeau, E. J., Stein, S. A., Richards, F. A., & Krause, S. R. (1998). The existence of developmental stages as shown by the hierarchical complexity of tasks. Developmental Review, 8(3). 237-278.


     *Commons, M. L., Woodford, M., & Ducheny, J. R. (1982). The relationship between perceived density of reinforcement in a schedule sample and its reinforcing value. In M. L. Commons, R. J. Herrnstein, & H. Rachlin (Eds.), Quantitative analyses of behavior:  Vol. 2. Matching and maximizing accounts (pp. 25-78). Cambridge, MA: Ballinger.


     *Cook-Greuter, S. R. (1990). Maps for living: Ego-development theory from symbiosis to conscious universal embeddedness. In M. L. Commons, J. D. Sinnott, F. A. Richards, & C. Armon (Eds.), Adult Development: Vol. 2. Comparisons and applications of adolescent and adult developmental models (pp. 79-104). New York:  Praeger.


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     *Dawson, T. L. (in press). New tools, new insights: Kohlberg moral reasoning stages revisited. International Journal of Behavioral Development.


     Dawson, T. L., Commons, M. L., & Wilson, M. (in review). The shape of development.


     Dawson, T. L., Commons, M. L., Wilson, M., & Xie, Y. (1999, June). The General Model of Hierarchical Complexity Scoring System: Refinements and additions. Paper presented at the annual symposium of the Jean Piaget Society, Mexico City, Mexico.


     *Demetriou, A.  (1990). Structural and developmental relations between formal and postformal capacities: Towards a comprehensive theory of adolescent and adult cognitive development. In M. L. Commons, C. Armon, L. Kohlberg, F. A. Richards, T. A. Grotzer, & J. D. Sinnott (Eds.), Adult development: Vol. 2., Models and methods in the study of adolescent and adult thought (pp. 147-173). New York: Praeger.


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     *Grotzer, T. A. McCarthy, K. G., Frome, K. W., & Commons, M. L. (June, 1987).  The process of stage change. Paper presented at Beyond Formal Operations 3: Positive development during adolescence and adulthood. The Development of Adolescent and Adult Thought and Perception, Harvard University, Cambridge.


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     *Kantrowitz, S., Buhlman, R. A., & Commons, M. L. (April, 1985). Application of signal-detection theory to the measurement of stage of development found in performance on formal-operational isolation-of-variables problems.  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Boston, MA.


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     *Kohlberg, L., & Armon, C. (1984). Three types of stage models used in the study of adult development. In M. L. Commons, F. A. Richards, & C. Armon (Eds.), Beyond formal operations: Vol. 1. Late adolescent and adult cognitive development (pp. 357-381).  New York: Praeger.


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     McAuliffe, G. J. (In press). Student changes, program influences, and adult development in one program of counselor training: An exploratory inductive inquiry. Journal of Adult Development.


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     *Richard, D. C., Unger, C. M., & Commons, M. L. (1988, April 22). Strategies as knowledge: Subjects' methods of determining causality during the shift from concrete to formal operations. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association at Buffalo. Friday, April 22, 1988, 8:20 am (Available from the Dare Institute, 234 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138).


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Adey, in press 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Anatasi, 198

Arlin (1975, 1977, 1984

Arlin (1975, 1977, 1984) 1 2

Arlin (1975, 1984 1 2

Brendel, Kolbert, & Foster, this issue

Colby and Kohlberg's (1987)

Commons & Ducheny 1979

Commons & Miller, 1998

Commons & Richards, 1984a, 1984b 1 2 3

Commons & Rodriguez, 1984b

Commons & Rodriguez, 1990

Commons & Rodriguez, 1990, 1993

Commons, Goodheart, and Dawson ( 1995; 1997

Commons, Goodheart, and Dawson (March, 1997

Commons, Grotzer, and Davidson (in preparation

Commons, Kantrowitz and Buhlman, 1984

Commons, Kantrowitz, Buhlman, Ellis, Grotzer, in preparation

Commons, Trudeau, Stein, Richards, & Krause, 1998)

Coombs, Dawes, & Tversky, 1970

Dawson & Commons, in preparation

Dawson, Commons, & Wilson, 1999, June

Dawson, Commons, & Wilson, in review; Dawson, Commons, & Wilson,

Fischer (1984

Fischer (personal communication

Fischer & Kenny 1986 1 2

Fischer & Kenny, 1986

Fischer & Lazerson, 1984 1 2

Fischer & Lazerson, 1984

Fischer and Lazerson (1984

Fischer, 1980 1 2 3 4

Fischer, 1980; 1986; 1984

Fisher & Lazerson, 1984

Gewirtz (1969b

Gewirtz, 1969

Goffman, 1967

Halford, 1999

Herrnstein & Vaughan, 1980

Herrnstein, 1982

Karmiloff-Smith, 1986 1 2

King & Kitchener, 1989

Kohlberg (1985)

Kohlberg, 1984

Kohlberg, 1990

Lindsay & Norman, 1977

Lovell, this issue

McAuliffe, this issue

Mislevy & Wilson, 1996

Overton, 1990

Piaget (1954

Piaget, 1973

Piaget, 1976 1 2

Rasch (1960

Rosenberg (1979

Rosenberg, 1979

Swan & Benack, in press)

Tappan, 1990

van Geert, 1991

Vygotsky (1966a; 1966b

Vygotsky's (1966a

Vygotsky's (1966a, 1966b 1 2

Wilson, 1989 1 2