Development of moral disengagement

learning to make wrong right

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Most people learn to distinguish right from wrong and good from bad in the early years. However, people do not always act in accord with this knowledge. Sometimes there is a mismatch between adopting moral standards and behaving in line with them. From the social cognitive theory view of moral agency, it is posited that this mismatch between standards and behavior is accommodated by invoking moral disengagement mechanisms. These mechanisms serve to exonerate immoral behavior, thereby reducing the discomfort and guilt that would typically be experienced when moral standards are violated. By justifying immoral behavior individuals are able to maintain their belief that they are moral people while behaving badly. This chapter examines the roots and developmental trajectory of moral disengagement. Social and cognitive factors associated with its development are examined along with its selective use in different contexts. Future research is needed to uncover the factors that support the use of moral disengagement mechanisms in certain contexts by some people.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of moral development
Subtitle of host publicationan interdisciplinary perspective
EditorsLene Arnett Jensen
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)9780190676049
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameOxford library of psychology


  • moral disengagement
  • moral standards
  • moral behavior
  • social cognitive theory
  • transgressive behavior
  • dehumanization
  • moral agency

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  • Cite this

    Bussey, K. (2020). Development of moral disengagement: learning to make wrong right. In L. A. Jensen (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of moral development: an interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 306-326). (Oxford library of psychology). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.