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Longitudinal Relationships between Bullying and Moral Disengagement among Adolescents

Abstract

Moral disengagement is a series of cognitive processes used to disengage moral standards to achieve absolved guilt and permit immoral conduct and has been found to be an important connection to bullying and aggressive behaviors among adolescents. This study examined the longitudinal relationship between moral disengagement and bullying behavior among a group of adolescents from fifth grade to ninth grade (n = 1180, mean age = 12.2, SD = 1.29, 46.5 % female, 80.2 % Caucasian/White, 7.1 % Black/African American, 5.4 % Latino/Hispanic, 2.4 % Asian American, and 1.7 % other) over three semesters. The objectives were to investigate (a) whether moral disengagement was a precursor to bullying behavior, vice versa, or whether the relationship was reciprocal and (b) whether gender and grade predicted moral disengagement and bullying behavior. The results showed that moral disengagement predicted bullying perpetration 6 months later. Also, older students and males utilized more moral disengagement than younger students and females and younger students and males engaged in greater bullying perpetration. Indirect paths linking gender and grade to bullying via moral disengagement at previous time points were identified and implications for bullying prevention are discussed. The findings underscore the importance of examining moral disengagement when studying bullying and across gender and development.

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Correspondence to Cixin Wang.

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Authors’ Contributions

CW participated in the design, collected the data, and drafted the manuscript; JR performed the statistical analysis, and drafted the manuscript; SS participated in the design of the study, and drafted the manuscript; RT participated in the design of the study and data collection; TG conducted the literature review. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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The research has been approved by the IRB from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Informed consent was obtained from all parents/ guardians of the participants and assent was obtained from all participants included in the study.

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Wang, C., Ryoo, J.H., Swearer, S.M. et al. Longitudinal Relationships between Bullying and Moral Disengagement among Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence 46, 1304–1317 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0577-0

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Keywords

  • Bullying
  • Moral disengagement
  • Gender
  • Grade
  • Autoregressive model
  • Cross-lagged model