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  • If we do something bad, we typically feel  guilty about it. Moral disengagement allows  

  • us to misbehave, and continue  to feel good about ourselves,  

  • convinced that our own moral  standards don't apply to us.

  • This psychological phenomenon comes informs. To learn about them, meet Sarah,  

  • a 16-year-old who was bullied in schoolWhen the teacher confronts those responsible,  

  • they each use one type of moral  disengagement to explain themselves.

  • Martin is the first to respond. He says:  "I was just trying to toughen her up. The  

  • world's a harsh place, and if she can't takelittle teasing, how is she going to survive?"  

  • He uses moral justification to frame his  behavior as a sort of public service.

  • Eric says: "We were just joking around with herIt's not a big deal.” Calling bullying "joking  

  • around," makes it sound more benign than it iswhich is why that’s called euphemistic labeling.

  • Anna says: "Other kids out there  are stealing! We were just having  

  • fun.” By contrasting her behavior  with things she considers worse,  

  • she makes her own actions appear fineAnna employs advantageous comparison.

  • Debora is next: “It's not my fault, the others  made me do it!” she says. She plays the victim,  

  • claiming that she was just following ordersThis is called displacement of responsibility.

  • Daniel is outraged. “Why am I being singled out?  I’m not the only one! Everyone was doing it!” By  

  • pointing to the others involved, he’s minimizing  his role and thereby diffusing responsibility.

  • Samuel does not see a problem. “She  is exaggerating, it’s not like we are  

  • monsters who eat people alive.”  Samuel tries to reduce his guilt,  

  • by downplaying Sarah’s feelings  and disregarding consequences.

  • Hector turns to dehumanization when he  says: “She’s a weirdo, and belongs in  

  • a zoo!” He implies that Sarah is an animaland hence less worthy of respect and empathy.

  • Antony laughs. “If she didn’t want to  be made fun of she should not act so  

  • strange. It’s her fault. Do you see what she  wears to school?” Antony is accusing Sarah,  

  • portraying his actions only as reactive  — that’s called attribution of blame.

  • The teacher realizes what's going onhe tells each one personally that he  

  • does not tolerate such behavior in his  class, suspends the 8 bullies for a week,  

  • and gives them homework for them to  reflect on their lame justifications.

  • The next week in class, he presents  the 8 principles and explains how moral  

  • disengagement can lead to an increase  in violence and a reduction in empathy.

  • The theory was developed by Albert Bandura,  a psychologist best known for his work on  

  • the social learning theory. On  moral disengagement, he wrote:

  • "Most people have standards against  which they evaluate the morality of  

  • their actions. However, such self-sanctions  do not operate unless they are activated.”

  • What about you? Have you ever used  moral disengagement to justify bad  

  • behavior? And do you think kids at schools would  

  • benefit from learning about it? Share  your thoughts in the comments below.

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If we do something bad, we typically feel  guilty about it. Moral disengagement allows  

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