Brief Overview

Rest’s Neo-Kohlberg’s theory developed an objective measure of moral development: the Defining Issues Test (DIT).  It explored institutions and social systems, unlike Kohlberg who limited stage content to social institutions.

About the Author

Rest developed the Neo-Kohlbergian Approach to measure model development and it an adaption to moral thinking.

Printable Summary (PDF)

Previous cohorts of FSU students have developed these printable summaries and used them to prepare for test and papers.  We hope they’ll be of help to you too.

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory: 

  • Personal Interest
    • A person can have evaluated what they may lose or gain without looking at the “bigger” picture involvement
    • “Focus on the self and recognizes some awareness of the other in making moral decisions” (p.106).
  • Maintaining Norms
    • Societal collaboration shape thinking
    • Elements:
      • Generally accepted principles governance
      • All Rules apply
      • “Clear, Uniform, and categorical” norms (p.107)
      • Reciprocity on view of norms
      • Authority and Chain of Command
  • Post-Conventional
    • Moral obligation impacts generalized values in terms of logic and rhetoric
    • More developmental complexity and advanced sense of ethical fiber
    • Elements (p.107):
      • Primacy of moral criteria
      • Appeal to an ideal
      • Shareable values
      • Full reciprocity
Application of Theory to Practice

This section is designed to provide student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty members with tips and tools to apply theory to practice.

Annotations of Associated Literature




Information submitted by Chris Graham

Original Citation

Rest, J. R., Narvaez, D., Bebeau, M., & Thoma, S. (2000). A neo-Kohlbergian approach to morality research. Journal of Moral Education, 29(4), 381–395.

Additional Resources

The video below provides an overview of Rest’s Neo-Kohlbergian Approach including the background context needed from Kohlberg’s Model of Moral Development, Rest’s schemas, and limitations to the approach. Within the video, the history of Rest’s approach is explained as having a foundation in Kohlberg’s model. It also explains that the schemas are not in stages because this approach allows for movement between the schemas and for an individual to have a percentage of their reasoning at particular stages, rather than being “in” one stage. Following the explanation of the schemas and theory, the video touches on some of the limitations within this theory. One interesting piece that could be expanded on in later research is that the theory could change depending on the culture, particularly collectivist and individualist cultures.  I chose to share this video as a supplemental resource because it explains the theory and discusses it from a student affairs and higher education perspective. While explaining the schemas, the video suggests that college students should be in the post-conventional schema and that educators should work to develop students to this level of moral development. As graduate students in student affairs at Oregon State University created the video, I think that learning from peers who are also in this field can be valuable.

YouTube link:


A YouTube video highlighting Rest’s approach to moral development.

This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty, Steven Dominy, Andrew Mason, Michelle Robinson, Marc Wollenschlaeger, and Jason Guilbeau. The webpage is maintained by Amanda Peerce and Jesse Ford.  For information on the page, please contact Amanda Peerce at or Jesse Ford at