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Self-Compassion Relates to Reduced Unethical Behavior Through Lower Moral Disengagement



Abundant evidence has demonstrated that self-compassion robustly contributes to individuals’ psychological well-being. Yet, less is known about the social benefits of self-compassion. The present research sought to test whether self-compassion is related to less unethical behavior, as well as the mediating role of moral disengagement in this relation.


Across two studies in China, a college student sample (study 1, N = 222; 24% men, Mage = 19.44 years) and a large adolescent sample (study 2, N = 3236; 46% boys, Mage = 15.66 years) were recruited to complete measures of self-compassion, moral disengagement, and unethical behavior.


Structural equation models revealed that self-compassion was negatively associated with unethical behavior (study 1, β = − 0.23, p = 0.006; study 2, β = − 0.19, p < 0.001) and that a lower level of moral disengagement explained the negative association between self-compassion and unethical behavior (study 1, indirect effect = − 0.14, p = 0.012, 95% CI [− 0.24, − 0.03]; study 2, indirect effect = − 0.08, p < 0.001, 95% CI [− 0.11, − 0.06]).


The findings support the notion that self-compassion decreases unethical behavior tendency through a lower level of moral disengagement, which expands our understanding of the adaptive functions of self-compassion in the social context.

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This research was sponsored by the MOE Project of Key Research Institutes of Humanities and Social Science at Universities (16JJD880007), Research Institute of Wang Yangming’s Philosophy of Mind & Current Social Mentality of Confucius Academy (KXTXT201704), Shanghai Sailing Program (19YF1413400), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2019M651440), and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (2019ECNU-HWFW019).

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Authors and Affiliations



YY conceived and designed this study, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. ZG collaborated with collecting data and revising the manuscript. JW revised the manuscript critically. YK was the principle investigator of the project and revised the paper critically. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Yu Kou.

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Conflict of Interest

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

All the research procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board at Beijing Normal University.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in both studies.

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Yang, Y., Guo, Z., Wu, J. et al. Self-Compassion Relates to Reduced Unethical Behavior Through Lower Moral Disengagement. Mindfulness 11, 1424–1432 (2020).

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  • Self-compassion
  • Unethical behavior
  • Moral disengagement
  • Morality
  • Social behavior