This paper suggests an approach to understanding moral functioning incorporating developments in biological and cognitive theory. Three components underlying moral behavior are postulated: (1) genetically programmed social tendencies, the motivational basis of the socialization process; (2) role-taking, a cognitive skill facilitating the appropriate expression of inborn social tendencies, and (3) the making of ingroup-outgroup distinctions, according to which, in specific situations, the individual chooses whether to role-take at all, and whether to use the information thus obtained to benefit the other. A summary of empirical work is presented which provides support for the theory by illustrating the mutual influence of role-taking skill and the ingroup-outgroup distinction on one form of moral behavior, sharing. Implications of this approach for defining character types are examined.

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