The aim of this study was to explore the effects of the moral cognition of gifted elementary schools students on their attitudes toward COVID-19. The study further investigated the changes in their emotions during the pandemic and the moderating effects of their emotions on the relationship between their moral cognition and attitudes toward patients with COVID-19. Various factors influence the moral cognition of children, such as age, sex, intelligence level, and personality. Moreover, their surrounding environments, particularly home and school environments, strongly affect their moral cognition. Therefore, various studies have explored relevant factors, such as education level, role replacement, peer relationship, family economic status, family structure, family emotion, religious belief, and sociocultural background. Nevertheless, the question regarding the attitudes of gifted children with outstanding potential toward moral issues should be explored. Lovecky (1997) indicated that gifted children are highly concerned about moral issues since childhood and that they have an excellent understanding of moral issues. Compared with their peers with a relatively low level of intelligence, gifted children have an improved understanding of fairness, justice, and responsibility toward he self and others (Gross, 1993), and this thus engenders high levels of moral sensitivity (Piechowski, 1991). Therefore, the question of whether the levels of these students’ moral perceptions vary depending on grade, sex, or sociocultural identity warrants exploration. Gifted students differ from others intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically; however, their ability to cognitively understand moral issues is higher than their ability to emotionally adjust to such issues (Clark, 2002/2007). Accordingly, they need opportunities to discuss moral issues around them and promote their moral growth (Lovecky, 1997). Epidemics exert strong negative effects on the general public; this fact invoked curiosity in the research fraternity regarding the effects of epidemics on gifted students belonging to different grades, sexes, and sociocultural identities. Questions arose regarding the effects of emotions on the moral perceptions of gifted students and whether such effects further affect the students’ moral behaviors and attitudes. Studies on moral education in gifted students have not reported any major outcomes; this might be because of the lack of an association between moral cognition and moral practice (Liu, 2002). From an educational perspective, studies have explored the efforts of schools in educating children and constructing their moral cognition; gifted students perform better in making ethical choices than do other students. The COVID-19 may be the first real-life pandemic situation experienced by young students. Therefore, students must receive information related to health and epidemic prevention. The question of whether the attitudes of gifted and ordinary elementary school students vary depending on various factors (grade, sex, and sociocultural identity) in a real setting must be explored. Moreover, whether cognition and attitude are related remains to be determined. Whether the levels of students’ moral cognition can help predict their attitudes toward epidemics and diseases also warrants clarification. Accordingly, on the basis of the theory of moral cognition development in children, the present study investigated the current status of moral cognition levels, emotions, and attitudes toward epidemics and patients in gifted and ordinary students and compared the findings between the two cohorts. The study findings may serve as a reference for designing ethics courses for gifted students with special needs in order to cultivate their sense of social responsibility and civic awareness and cultivate the virtues of knowing, loving, and doing good. This study included a total of 887 elementary school students (gifted, 515; ordinary, 372). Three research tools — the Behavior Defining Questions Test, Epidemic and Patient Attitude Scale, and Emotion Scale — were used for data collection and analysis. The results revealed no significant differences between gifted and ordinary students in terms of moral cognitive performance. Regarding the epidemic-related emotions of students belonging to various grades and sexes, this study determined that the ordinary students expressed higher levels of belief, fear, surprise, and sadness than did the gifted students; middle-and higher-grade gifted students expressed fear, surprise, sadness, and disgust; and boys expressed higher levels of sadness than did girls. The levels of moral attitudes toward epidemics and patients were more prominent in the gifted students than in the ordinary students. Upper-grade students exhibited improved attitudes compared with middle-grade students. Furthermore, emotions exerted no moderating effects on the relationship between moral cognition and epidemic-related attitudes among the gifted elementary students. On the basis of the findings, this study proposes the following recommendations: 1. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals may experience slight mood changes due to psychological adjustment to the new normal. In the present study, the students had different perspectives of COVID-19 and thus experienced different emotions. Future studies may investigate the suitable approach and time point for evaluating emotions. The relationship between moral attitudes and behaviors remains to be clarified in an actual classroom setting. Qualitative studies may be conducted to investigate this relationship. 2. In terms of moral cognition and attitudes toward the pandemic and patients, middle-grade gifted students appear to experience more negative emotions than do others; this may pose a considerable psychological burden on them. Thus, teachers must provide psychological support and counseling to gifted students with different needs and teach them to actively process and analyze situational information to help them devise strategies for stress relief. 3. Enhancing the belief and positive expectation of students regarding social issues may help improve their attitudes toward moral issues, thus improving their ethical behaviors.
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