Conscience and Mental Complexity

Growth in mental complexity contributes to the shaping of conscience through the development of the feeling of empathy. Empathy can be characterized as a state of mental awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. According to Schalkwijk (2018), the concept of self plays an essential role in this state because it defines how people can understand the feelings of others. This idea proves that the comparison of one’s self with the emotions of others produces empathy. Therefore, this ability to connect a person’s self with the other individuals’ feelings defines the emergence of conscience.

The second aspect that reveals the development of conscience is the factor of self-conscious emotions. The progress of such emotions as guilt, jealousy, and embarrassment results from the ability of humans to understand the position of themselves in society. Schalkwijk (2018) explains that these feelings emerge from people’s analysis of their self viewed as an object. Since individuals demonstrate their ability to assess their behavior, distancing themselves from their personality, they can understand what others may think of them. Consequently, they can use their conscience to make self-evaluations through self-conscious emotions.

The last component contributing to the growth of conscience is the skill to reason and think from the perspective of morality. The formation of the capability to understand moral norms is based on the experience of a person learning from childhood what is morally acceptable and what is not. The progress of the mental complexity of children defines how they start to realize their personalities from the perspective of the appropriateness of their conduct. Thus, they develop their conscience through the understanding of the ethical and behavioral norms.

Personal choices shape conscience, making a person regard some particular things as right or wrong. The feeling of moral obligation and social responsibility depends on individuals’ perception of their position in society. Their tendency to consider that some aspects of human life can be appropriate while others are immoral determines how people act in specific situations. For instance, if people consider that humans living in poverty deserve their way of living, then these individuals might deny the notion of charity. In this situation, these humans’ choices of the specific social position influence the conscience, making them consider their refraining from charity morally correct. Although some other people might disagree with them, this preference affects their disposition to disregard the moral sense of others.

The next factor that defines the role of choices in shaping conscience is the environment. In particular, the decision to belong to a specific social group and have certain friends and partners affects the formation of values and principles. Schalkwijk (2018) assumes that mirror neurons might play a considerable role in this process. Mainly, they affect the behavior of humans, making them reflect the ideas of others and accept the positions of their companions. In addition, these people may shape their ethical views based on the values advocated by the group. These values define how an individual might act in different cases, choosing what conduct to regard as appropriate and morally acceptable.

For example, if a person communicates with people, considering that stealing money from the wealthy is ethical and honorable, then this individual might feel no remorse. In this illustration, the primary choice of the milieu and social circle determines the formation of moral principles.


Schalkwijk, F. (2018). A new conceptualization of the conscience. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(1863), 1-8. Web.

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PsychologyWriting. "Conscience and Mental Complexity." October 24, 2023.