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The social cognitive theory of morality emphasizes a distinction between a child's moral competence and moral performance. Moral competence or acquisition of moral knowledge depends primarily on cognitive-sensory processes. It is essentially the outgrowth of these processes. Competencies include what children are capable of doing, what they know, their skills, their awareness of moral rules and regulations, and their cognitive ability to construct behaviors. Children's moral performance, or behavior, however, is determined by their motivation and the rewards and incentive to act in a specific moral way. Albert Bandura also believes that moral development is best understood by considering a combination of social and cognitive factors, especially those involving self-control.

Bandura argues that in developing a moral self, individuals adopt standards of right and wrong that serve as guides and restraints for conduct. In this self-regulatory process, people monitor their conduct and the conditions under which it occurs, judge it in relation to moral standards, and regulate their actions by the consequences they apply to themselves. They do things that provide them satisfaction and sense of self-worth. They often refrain from engaging in ways that violate their moral standards in order to avoid self-condemnation. Therefore, self-sanctions keep conducts inline with internal standards. In Bandura’s view, morality is rooted in self-regulation rather than abstract reasoning.

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