Objective. This study examined the effects of two service learning experiences on the psychosocial and moral reasoning development of occupational therapy students. The assumption was that ethical reasoning ability can be facilitated through participation in value-laden experiences.
Method. Participants visited older adults in nursing homes (n = 19) or interacted with persons with disabilities in community settings (n = 33). All participants reflected on their experiences through weekly journals. Psychosocial and moral reasoning development were measured at the beginning and end of the experiences with the Student Development Task and Lifestyle Inventory and the Sociomoral Reflection Measure-Short Form.
Results. Participants in both groups exhibited a significant time-related increase in psychosocial development but no increase in moral reasoning. Participants interacting with persons with disabilities exhibited a decrease over time in moral reasoning compared with the participants interacting with older adults.
Conclusion. Service learning effected a change in the participants’ psychosocial development indicative of developing an appreciation for dignity, equality, and justice. These are core concepts in occupational therapy and are viewed as important in ethical reasoning. The lack of advancement and current level of moral reasoning in these undergraduate students raises a question as to their readiness to engage in ethical reasoning as entry-level practitioners.