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Examining the Pathologic Adaptation Model of Community Violence Exposure in Justice Involved Adolescents: the Moderating and Mediating Effects of Moral Disengagement

Abstract

According to the pathologic adaptation model (Ng-Mak et al. in The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72, 92–101, 2002), youth who experience community violence exposure may become desensitized to these experiences. Moral disengagement, which refers to changing one’s moral or ethical standards to justify engaging in destructive or harmful behavior, has been proposed as a construct to explain the relation between community violence exposure and desensitization (Bandura et al., 1996). The purpose of the current study was to test the pathologic adaptation model of community violence exposure and examine the role of moral disengagement in these pathways. The current study included a sample of justice-involved adolescents (n = 1,170; Mage = 16.05, SD = 1.16) from the Pathways to Desistance study. The PROCESS bootstrapping procedure for SPSS was used to examine whether moral disengagement mediates the associations from community violence to aggressive behaviors and depressive. Exploratory analyses examined moral disengagement as a moderator these associations. Moral disengagement significantly moderated the association between witnessing violence and self-reported offending such that witnessing violence at baseline significantly positively predicted offending for individuals who were moderate to high (but not low) in moral disengagement. In contrast, moral disengagement did not moderate the linear association between community violence exposure and depressive symptoms. Further, moral disengagement did not mediate the association between community violence exposure and offending. Results from this study highlight the need to increase access to mental health services and re-entry programs to reduce offending behaviors for justice-involved youth.

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Correspondence to Jenny Phan.

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Phan, J., Gaylord-Harden, N. Examining the Pathologic Adaptation Model of Community Violence Exposure in Justice Involved Adolescents: the Moderating and Mediating Effects of Moral Disengagement. Journ Child Adol Trauma 15, 669–681 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-021-00425-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-021-00425-2

Keywords

  • Moral disengagement
  • Justice-involved youth
  • Pathologic adaptation to violence exposure