Longitudinal Relationships between Bullying and Moral Disengagement among Adolescents

Cixin Wang, Ji Hoon Ryoo, Susan M. Swearer, Rhonda Turner, Taryn S. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1304-1317
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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