Moral disengagement – Introduction

Photo of 3 monkeys in "hear, speak, see no evil" poses

Hear, Speak, See No Evil. Toshogu Prefecture, Japan. (Unconditional permission granted by photographer, via WikiMedia Commons.)

Psychologist Albert Bandura has devoted his life to the study of human aggression and violence.  It is his theoretical constructs that we begin considering today.

Bandura recognized that shame and guilt are uncomfortable emotions and that people will utilize a variety of strategies to avoid feeling them.

For some people, feelings of shame and guilt resulting from bad behavior may lead to positive character development, mature intimacy, generativity, and integrity.

Other people use strategies of “moral disengagement” to help them avoid shame or guilt while continuing to behave badly.

According to Bandura, “mechanisms of moral disengagement” can serve to satisfy their users that they are behaving morally because they are conforming to the values of their role models, spiritual guides, or political leaders.

Unfortunately, many leaders, often with the help of the media, promote the development and use of moral disengagement in order to insure their followers’ compliance in acts of horrifying violence against others.  For example, they encourage viewing “the enemy” as someone evil, inferior, and deserving punishment or even elimination.

Bandura has identified several types of moral disengagement that allow ordinary people to tolerate and even contribute to behaviors like torture, rape, and murder–behaviors that violate the ethics of reciprocity, the teachings of love and brotherhood in all major religious texts, and the human rights laws endorsed by the United Nations.

These mechanisms of moral disengagement include:

  • “Moral” justification–which we prefer to call “spurious moral justification”
  • Euphemistic labeling
  • Advantageous comparison
  • Displacement of responsibility
  • Disregard or distortion of consequences
  • Dehumanizing or demonizing the other

In upcoming posts, we will explore each of these mechanisms in more detail, and give common examples of their use. We will also introduce the mechanisms of moral engagement that allow individuals to resist spurious calls to violence in the name of peace.

Be sure to check back to learn more.

Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology

Note: This post was adapted from my previously published article in Peace Psychology (a publication of the American Psychological Association), Spring, 2009.

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28 Responses to Moral disengagement – Introduction

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  2. T. Paine says:

    I do believe it is a good possibility that some people who have shown moral disengagement in the past can come to regret their behavior and become morally engaged. Consider Malcolm X, who describes in his autobiography how his early life as a pimp, drug addict, and burglar, and his hatred and rage toward all white people, changed after his conversion to Islam in jail and his later visits to Mecca, and how he continued his activism on behalf of equal rights for Afro Americans, despite understanding that he would probably be killed for distancing himself from Elijah Muhammad and his racist doctrines.

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  5. Caroline Daniel says:

    This post reminds me of when I met Albert Bandura. Everyone was going up to
    him and discussing their research and asking for his thoughts. I got up to him, and said “I am terribly sorry. I have nothing intelligent to say, but I wanted to meet you because you are so brilliant and such an obvious influence on psychology.” It led to a very light-hearted conversation in the end, but I felt so minuscule talking to him.

    You are so profound, I find myself with nothing to say except “You are SOOOO right! I totally agree!”

  6. Jenny Jang says:

    After reading Cohrs, Maes, Moschner, and Kielmann’s (2003) Patterns of Justification of the United States’ ‘War Against Terrorism’ In Afghanistan, I found myself thinking about how easy it is for our country to go to war. Although 9/11 and capturing Osama Bin Ladin was a justifiable reason to go into Afghanistan, it made no sense for the United States to be involved in other disputes such as the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.

    According to Bandura (1999) the four aspects of moral disengagement are moral justification, displacement of responsibility, dehumanizing the victim, and minimization of negative consequences. Cohrs et al. (2003) conducted a study to find out people’s attitude towards the Afghanistan War and how their attitudes related to the different aspects of moral disengagement. They concluded that in general, all four aspects were strongly related to the opinion of the Afghanistan War. Although this study showed strong relationships between processes of moral disengagement and attitudes towards the Afghanistan War, I think this study should be conducted differently because a majority of the participants were not from the United States. I think that this study should be conducted in the United States among Americans because this is a war involving Americans and I am interested in seeing how people from different parts of our country feel about the war and their reasoning behind it.

    Ultimately, I think our government is driven by greed and is aware of it. However, the members of government need to morally disengage in order to feel better about themselves.

    • Victoria says:

      First of all, I entirely agree that the study conducted should have involved American citizens of various backgrounds across the country. The fact that it was a study conducted almost solely of Germans was confusing. I understand if many countries were polled to see their reactions to American involvement in Afghanistan. However, the type of poll used would have been better suited to polling Americans.

      Secondly, Although I agree that our government is driven by greed and thus that is the reason for our involvement overseas, I do not think that our leaders morally disengage to feel better about themselves per say. I think it is a bit more complicated than that. I believe moral disengagement is a necessary tool to some point. Although not desirable, moral disengagement is used by most people when they find themselves in a violent situation they cannot remove themselves from. For example, mothers whose husbands abuse their children usually use those four principles of moral disengagement to keep their sanity intact. They know that it will be better for them if they pretend that those four principles actually show the truth. They won’t be morally obligated to act against the aggressor and put themselves in harm’s way.

      These principles are linked closely with the metaphors Lakoff talks about. Corgan also comments about this with his talk about propaganda. Lakoff’s metaphors are combined with Bandura’s principles which are then shown to the public as propaganda. I believe that when the United States had a proper reason to enter a war (such as WWI and II), the American people liked to know that the “evil Nazis” were being defeated. It was used as a morale booster. Of course it was intended to cover up the brutality of war but the American people were much more sensitive to images of war. In today’s society, we see the media trying to cover up the truth in order to dupe us. I believe that the government thought that such graphic images would not benefit the public so the real nature of war was not shown clearly. Now, however, in our society, we are surrounded by so much blatant and obvious violence that we expect to see the bodies of civilians and soldiers alike after a bombing last week on the evening news and in the newspapers. Because we as a people are so desensitized to violence, we expect the government to be entirely candid about it. If anything, we should be worried that our society is open with and actually welcoming to depictions of violence.

  7. Jessica says:

    In discussing his theory on moral disengagement, Bandura (1999) proposes that “euphemistic language is widely used to make harmful conduct respectable and to reduce personal responsibility for it” (p. 195). The concept which Bandura terms “euphemistic labeling” is further discussed by Corgan and Malley-Morrison (2008) in context of government rhetoric on war.

    Corgan and Malley-Morrison (2008) highlight the pervasiveness of euphemistic labeling in recent and distant history. The technique enables a “cognitive reconstruction” of atrocious behavior–in this case, of the realities of war (Bandura, p. 194).

    Although euphemistic labeling is pervasive in speaking about wars, the general practice of cognitive reconstruction is present in aspects of life beyond wars. At the root of falling “prey” to euphemistic labeling and reframing one’s perception of his/her own behavior (to reconcile it with previously stated moral principles) exists a willingness to manipulate (more) accurate perceptions of reality in order to preserve a sense of self-worth or self-respect, or perhaps, social acceptance (all of which may maintain “happiness”, or at the very least, a lack of unhappiness). Over time, such a willingness will dull an individual’s capacity to think, and therefore, his/her ability to be informed and direct his/her own behavior to achieve his/her goals based on reality.

    The closer our representations of the world, others and ourselves are to reality, the more accurate the information we possess and better we can utilize the information to act effectively. I suppose that it is much easier said than done, and that I can’t prove that there exists an objective reality that is not a function of our mental representations of it and perhaps the world is what we judge it to be. However, what I can say for certain is that having a habit of shielding one’s self from truths is an unsustainable and unfruitful practice, breeding ignorance, docility and a dependence on others.

    There were portions of this post that may be vague or convoluted, so please let me know if I should clarify anything. Does anyone have a different opinion on this, or any examples from your own or others’ experiences?

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  9. Justine Vecchiarelli says:

    Bandura’s mechanisms of moral disengagement are pervasive in our society, and in all forms of aggression, from bullying, to family violence, to torture and war. Focusing in on family violence, these mechanisms are apparent in the risk factors, and post-abuse rationalizations that abusive parents and spouses make.
    It is clear in cultural idioms, such as a “good spanking,” that euphemistic labeling is a frequent occurrence (Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective, pg. 4). Additionally, moral justification is rampant in all forms of abuse and maltreatment. Often, physical or verbal abuse is rationalized as a just punishment for the disobedience of spouse or child, for their failure at fulfilling their familial role (Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective, pg. 4). Another example of this is wife rape. Only recently recognized as a valid form of maltreatment, wife rape was previously thought impossible, and that in entering in a marital vow entitled husbands to intercourse upon request (Family Violence in the US, pgs. 11-12). Such cases were dismissed and wives were seen as violating the marriage contract, thus, wife rape was ‘morally justified’ (Family Violence in the US, pg. 11). Family Violence in the US Chapter 4 on child physical abuse notes the emotional and cognitive risk factors for the physical abuse of children. Parents more at risk for physically abusing their children typically view any of the child’s poor behavior as a negative characteristic of the child, and any good behavior is attributed to their parenting skills (Family Violence in the US, pg. 92). These cognitive distortions are perfect examples of the displacement of responsibility described by Bandura in moral disengagement.
    These mechanisms of moral disengagement can clearly be traced through various realms and levels of aggression and violence, and are certainly apparent in many examples of family violence.

    • kathiemm says:

      Justine, I think you are right about the pervasiveness of moral disengagement. These proceseses make it all too easy for people to behave inhumanely and still portray themselves and view themselves as decent moral people.

  10. Jac says:

    Unfortunately, murder, “typically through beatings or suffocation, has […] been identified as the fourth leading cause of death of children ages 1-4. […It is] typically [by] mothers in the first few months and often father or stepfathers in later months. […] According to one analysis, from 1985 through 1996, the total number of homicides in children younger than 11 years due to abuse was […] likely to be 9,467” (Family Violence in the United States, p. 32). What are these parents thinking when giving these severe beatings or going so far as to cut off a child’s airways? Bandura’s explanation of moral disengagement can be utilized not only to try to understand the rationale behind the terrible acts in war as this blog implies, but also to attempt to understand the reasons that adults commit child physical and sexual abuse as well. Malley-Morrison’s Family Violence in the United States states, “Definitions of abuse […] have varied in the extent to which they incorporate assumptions about causes (e.g., people who hurt the ones they love are “sick”), effects (e.g., abusive behaviors are those that cause harm), motivations (e.g., abusive behaviors are intended to hurt rather than discipline), frequency (e.g., slapping is abusive only if it is chronic), and intensity (e.g., hitting is abusive if it is hard enough to cause injury)” (Family Violence in the United States, p. 4-5). The same discrepancy exists about what acts constitute sexual abuse. Many definitions of sexual abuse are referring to “contact sexual abuse,” which includes fondling and anal, oral, or vaginal sex, but some definitions can also include “noncontact abuse,” like “voyeurism, exhibitionism, and exposure to pornography” (Family Violence in the United States, p. 110-111). To better discuss the comparison of the different child abuse definitions’ criteria to Bandura’s theory of moral disengagement, it might be helpful to give a brief reminder of each of its components’ descriptions: moral justification, euphemistic labeling, advantageous comparison, displacement of responsibility, disregarding or distorting consequences, and dehumanizing or demonizing the other. Moral disengagement is the sometimes-unconscious process of relieving feelings of shame or guilt arising from immoral acts. Our professor mentioned the first war with Iraq, known as “the war to end all wars,” as an example of “moral” justification. People often claim, “War is sometimes necessary to achieve peace.” But because war is not peaceful, she explained that by using moral phrases like “achieving peace,” people can feel better about an immoral act such as bombing an entire village. In a domestic abuse setting, an example of moral justification would be the phrase “cruel to be kind” by “teaching the child a lesson.”
    Related to moral justification is euphemistic labeling, the act of reducing guilt or discomfort about a situation by labeling it with a more pleasant, more neutral name. If a government calls a war something that will end all violence, the people of the nation are going to feel better about supporting it. A commonly used example of euphemistic labeling is “collateral damage,” the killing of civilians, including the less powerful people of society, such as babies and elders. Another example is “friendly fire,” or the killing of soldiers by one’s own side. In a familial setting, examples of euphamistic language would be “tough love,” “discipline,” or “spanking” when referring to aggressive beating.
    Somewhat similar to euphemistic labeling is “advantageous comparison.” However, whereas euphemistic labeling tries to conceal the horror of a war act, advantageous comparison openly admits the act is not good but claims that at least it is not as terrible as some other heinous act. For example, one might claim that the torture of one person is justifiable because it would be worse to torture thousands of people. With regards to family violence, an advantageous comparison would be telling a child after a slapping that the aggression was “nothing compared to” what they went through as a child beaten with belts or spoons. This cycle of violence is unfortunately common. According to Family Violence in the United States, an estimated 30% of people who were raised in violent homes will abuse their children, and “those who were exposed to violence in their families of origin are at significantly greater risk for physically maltreating their own children than those who were not” (p.91). Another example would be a mother disciplining a child and telling him or her that at least it’s better than what the father would do. Also, according to our professor, because of the racism in America that sometimes influences law enforcement officials to treat African-Americans unfairly, a beating of a child in African-American families in particular is felt to be justified by telling them that it would be better to be spanked and taught now than to be in trouble with the law later.
    The displacement of responsibility is another mechanism that serves to blame the victim of the war act or at the least to brush the responsibility of the consequences onto someone or something else. An example of this would be an army claiming that they would never bomb one group of people if it weren’t absolutely necessary in order to protect some other group of innocent people or the more well known example of a Nazi claiming that he had only tortured or killed prisoners because orders from higher up had forced him to. Similarly, if a son didn’t do his homework before the father came home, the father’s beating would be excused in his mind because it was the son’s fault that the father had to teach him a lesson—he didn’t want to beat the son, but in his mind, the son made him.
    According to a 1984 Finkelhor & Redfield study listed in Family Violence in the United States, an act of sexual abuse, even when committed on a child under the age of six, has been rated as “less abusive, even when [it has been stated that] the consequences of the behavior are quite negative” if the victim seemed to have reacted passively in an abuse scenario (p.37). Do these people think that a young child understands well enough about what is happening to him or her, and if that is the case, do they really believe that a young child would be brave enough or think he or she were strong enough to fight off an adult’s advances? As we saw in a video about the child pornography community in class this past Monday, pedophiles prey on this idea of displacing responsibility. One man, unaware that he was being filmed and unaware that the man he was revealing these atrocities to was not a fellow pedophile, described his process of keeping the children as victims by making them feel partially responsible. He said that in order to secure the child as a victim, he had to abuse the child multiple times in a short period. This way, he explained that the child felt a sense of responsibility because the child has “let it happen” more than once and is therefore less likely to tell anyone because of the shame and guilt brought on by this delusion of partial responsibility. In Family Violence in the United States, a case study on Ann and Marie, two daughters of a pedophile, illustrated that this is apparently the thought process that some abuse victims form: “Marie became quite tearful and felt guilty and ‘dirty’ because of this particular abuse. She wondered if it was her fault and if she should be blamed for not stopping her father sooner” (p.111). However incredulous this may seem to some of us, it is apparently a view that some adults share. Although this 1982 case is admittedly outdated, it still displays the victim blaming attitudes that may contribute to victims like Marie’s feelings of guilt. Family Violence in the United States mentions a Wisconsin judge leniently sentencing a sex offender to 90 days in prison because the judge saw the five-year-old victim as “an unusually sexually promiscuous young lady,” claimed the offender “did not know enough to refuse,” and stated that he did not believe the offender instigated the contact (p. 37). One would like to believe that this kind of victim blaming would never happen today, but it is possible that some people still feel this way.
    Also aimed at blaming the victims or washing one’s hands of guilt is the mechanism of “disregarding or distorting consequences.” In war, a situation in which a drone with pinpoint accuracy is used could not possibly go wrong because of the machine’s dead-on precision. No negative consequences and no one who was innocent would ever get hurt, at least according to this type of moral disengagement mechanism. An example of an abusive home showing disregard or distortion of consequences would be a parent beating a child telling them, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” However, studies show that this is not the case. Even if the parent does feel some distress from beating the child, the negative consequences that will come of this will affect the child most, not the parents. The consequences of physical abuse typically vary according to the age of the child when the abuse took place. Some of the long-term consequences of child abuse during preschool years are the following: “an insecure attachment to their parents that has been labeled disorganized/disoriented attachment [,which] seems to carry over into other social relationships;” a reduced likelihood to express “empathy or concern;” a tendency to express “fear or anger at another’s distress” instead of sadness; and sometimes even imitating the learned behavior from their parents of hitting or withdrawing from other distressed toddlers (Family Violence in the United States p.98). When the children are abused as schoolchildren, they have fewer prosocial, positive or friendly and more disturbed, conflict-oriented, and uncooperative interactions (p. 98). Some cognitive issues they experience are “problems in motivation and task initiation, lower intelligence, and receptive and expressive language problems” and they tend to have more emotional problems that result in several disorders (Family Violence in the United States p.99). Even when controlling for family mental health background, income, and perinatal problems, compared to nonabused children, abused children were more likely to be diagnosed with agoraphobia, conduct disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, oppositional defiant disorder, and overanxious disorder (p.99). They are also more likely to drink, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, and commit property offenses (p.100). Adults who were abused as children display long-term negative consequences, such as a greater likelihood to be involved in violent crimes, prostitution, sexual risk-taking behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, and are more likely to have antisocial personality disorder, “depressive and anxious symptoms, emotional-behavioral problems, and suicidal ideation and attempts” (p.100-101). As shown from these findings, parents who convince themselves that abusing a child hurts them more than it hurts the child are certainly disregarding or distorting the consequences.
    Another disturbing example of this mechanism was shown to us in the video last Monday. An advocate for NAMBLA (North American Man/Boy Love Association) appeared on the film proudly asserting that a child having sexual intercourse with an adult is natural and beneficial for the child. NAMBLA’s motto, “Sex before 8, or it’s too late,” reflects their bizarre belief that children want to and should engage in sexual activity at an early age to gain experience and for educational purposes, using illogical arguments such as the fact that the Ancient Greeks practiced pedophilic behavior.
    The final mechanism of moral disengagement that can be applied to these topics is that of dehumanizing or demonizing the other side serves to relieve one’s guilt or distress about killing another human being. By separating “them” from “us,” an army can feel more hatred for the other side because of made-up or exaggerated differences between sides. With regards to family violence, an example would be a husband thinking of a wife as no longer his loved one but now as only a “sl*t,” “b***h,” “wh**e,” etc.
    As I have hopefully shown above, some of the criteria in the definitions of child abuse are indeed related to moral disengagement. The theory of moral disengagement should be kept in mind during the consideration of effects (the harmful consequences of abusive behavior) and motivations (why the abusive behavior was committed) when defining abuse. That is, an abusive behavior that is committed by someone who has morally disengaged him or herself is still an abusive behavior often resulting in some physical, emotional, or psychological harm. For example, even if a parent morally justifies beating a child as “just teaching them a lesson,” the beating is still a form of abuse, regardless of whether the abusive parent realizes its immorality. More must be done to publicize the findings that show child abuse, even corporal punishment, often leads to negative life outcomes.

    • kathiemm says:

      Wow! What an broad-reaching, informative, and fact-filled essay this is. Thanks for providing so much thought-provoking information on parallels between moral disengagement regarding governmental aggression and moral disengagement re: family violence.

  11. Natasha Phillips says:

    This post addresses the way that “other people use strategies of ‘moral disengagement, to help them avoid shame or guilt while continuing to behave badly”, but it should also be considered that these strategies that fall under the umbrella of moral disengagement are used equally by the victims of “bad behavior”. Not all of the strategies are the same, but there are definite parallels between the kind of disengagement used by the “aggressor” and the “victim”. Abused children often identify with their abuser in order to live with the damage done to them and make excuses for them such as, “I deserved it, I was bad.” In this way they provide their own “moral justification” for what has been done to them, so that their loved ones do not violate their own codes and mandates of expected behavior. The following case of marital rape is a prime example of a victim using euphemistic labeling: “His hand on my throat, pressing me into the bed… I never called it… rape. I called it rough sex,” (Family Violence in the U.S., 2). In calling it “rough sex” rather than rape, it implies that what was done to her was consensual. It may have been “being selfish and inconsiderate, a beast, a monster”, but she never called it rape (Family Violence in the U.S., 2). As another example, victims and society alike call abusers “sick”, which can also serve to remove some degree of blame and responsibility from them (Family Violence in the U.S., 5). It is easier to call someone sick than to admit to the possibility that someone transgressed so far against their own family members in a calculating, deliberate fashion. Further, children who were sexually abused have been known to identify with their molester and ask that the molester be “treated” rather than imprisoned for what they did; in their minds it becomes necessary to see what happened to them as an act of love in order for them to live with it and they feel great sympathy for those who have done such wrongs to them.

    On a separate note, moral justification also plays a key role in the perpetuation of corporal punishment. American societal attitudes towards corporal punishment are accepting and in the following case, a mother is proud to have physically disciplined her toddler son: “When my son was a toddler… he would often attempt to squeeze past the front door where stone steps awaited his fall. Verbal reprimands and redirecting his attention elsewhere were fruitless, as he attempted time and time again to get out… I swatted him smartly a couple of times on his diapered behind…! It took two more swattings before he became convinced of the certain connection between trying to get out the front door and the painful consequences, but after that, he needed no more reminders!” (Family Violence in the U.S., 2). The majority of parents in the U.S. “consider spanking to be appropriate and necessary despite the fact that many professional organizations… have issued statements recommending that children not be subjected to corporal punishment,” (Family Violence in the U.S., 4). Spanking children being labeled as “appropriate and necessary” can be considered euphemistic labeling as well as moral justification. Thinking that spanking children makes them well-behaved and is an appropriate measure to punish children who do not understand verbal reprimands assuages any guilt that a parent may feel for hitting their children. If something has such positive effects and is seen as socially appropriate, why should you be ashamed or guilty about it? Such is the current attitude adopted by many United States parents, despite the fact that across the seas many European countries have banned the use of corporal punishment because of its demonstrated negative effects (Family Violence in the U.S., 6).

    • kathiemm says:

      Thanks, Natasha for your interesting analysis of the ways in which the survivors of maltreatment can, like their abusers, use moral disengagement to help them cope with what has been done to them.

  12. Nick Peine says:

    It seems that if a person does not have a serious moral defect, moral disengagement is a vital part to committing domestic violence. A person who is a abusive towards his wife may use any or all of Bandura’s tactics to detach himself from his acts. He may consider her less than human, and therefore deserving of the punishment he levees. He may use euphemistic language, such as calling his abuse “punishment” or “discipline”. Often times he may place the blame upon his wife, asserting that she “forced it upon herself.” He may also demonize her, stating that she has some inherent defect that requires his physical regulation of it.

    It seems that in every situation or theory pertaining to war or battle, the same theories may be used to explain the actions of a batterer. This shows that there is consistency with all types of violence, and people hurting people is the same in every situation, no matter the circumstances in which it is carried out. Many may consider domestic violence to be a lesser form of violence, or an instance of violence that is not as severe as those of military campaigns. But the fact that all situations of violence can be explained and linked back to the same root causes and theories suggests otherwise. Violence is violence, no matter the scale at which it is carried out, or the situation in which it is carried out.

  13. Maraya Rodriguez says:

    In response to the Moral disengagement – Introduction (August 30th 2012) and Euphemistic labeling (Moral disengagement, part 3) blog posts, I have used the text Family Violence in the United States and Family Violence in a cultural Perspective to reveal ramifications of exposure to mechanisms of moral disengagement in correlation to child sexual abuse.

    From his passionate studies of human aggression and violence, Albert Bandura has determined that mechanisms of moral disengagement help remove the shame or guilt of behaving immorally. He argues that these mechanisms are especially effective when succumbing to such immoral behaviors can be views as simply “conforming to the values of their role models, spiritual guides, or political leaders,” which are promoted “often with the help of the media (Moral disengagement-Introduction, Kathie M).” In other words, the mechanisms of moral disengagement that influence the behaviors we are often exposed to by the Media and recognized political figures promote the use of moral disengagement in those exposed to them. This idea is also supported and explained in Social Learning theory discussed in Family Violence in a Cultural Perspective. This theory is one of the most widely accepted theories for understanding the use of behaviors, and states “aggressive behaviors are learned… through modeling observed behaviors in important role models (MM&H 2-20).”

    Also, in agreement with Bandura’s philosophy, I have found textual evidence from Family Violence in the United States supporting my belief in this ideal. As possible predictors and correlates of child sexual abuse, it is argued that the “The availability of child and adult pornography may lead to adult sexual interest in children (H&MM 5-113).” Essentially, the widespread availability of exposure immoral behaviors by the media, result in the possible justification and promotion for those behaviors, because engaging in such behaviors can be viewed as simply conforming to the behaviors displayed in the Media⎯confirming Bandura’s theory.

    As an example of these theories, I believe the media uses the moral disengagement technique of Euphemistic Labeling to course individuals to support and buy into the nations pornographic industry. Euphemistic Labeling is identified by Bandura to be “the process of sanitizing language in order to detract from he emotional intensity of the reality being referenced (Euphemistic labeling (Moral disengagement, part 3), Kathie M).”
    In the U.S, acquiring payment for engaging in intercourse, such as prostitution and escort services, is illegal and punishable by law. However, this illegal behavior is conducted through the creation and distribution of pornographic films, where individuals are paid for their involvement in the making of pornography through acted or actual engagement in intercourse. I believe media uses the moral disengagement technique of euphemistic labeling, and labels these illegal behaviors as “pornography” and “Adult films” to detract from the reality of what pornography actually is (another form of prostitution). I believe this explains the “success” of the major sales and profit of pornographic industry
    Further, supporting Bandura’s theory, the data collected in a study researching the effects of masturbation to pornography by Briere and Runtz reveals how the exposure to moral disengagement used by the media can influences the use of moral disengagement by those exposed. Briere and Runtz “found that masturbation to pornography was predictive of college males sexual interest in children” when the data revealed that of the male college student sample “21% had experienced some sexual attraction to small children, … 5% masturbated during fantasies about sex with a child, and 7% stated it was at least somewhat likely they would have sex with a child if there was no likelihood of detection or punishment (H&MM 5-117).” I believe these results speak volumes, especially in regard to the percent of males who admitted they would have sex with a child if there were no likelihood of punishment or detection.
    I believe these studies display how the use of moral disengagement by the media is powerful enough to influence the interest and acceptance of immoral behaviors such as sexual intercourse with a child. While the study did not correlate the actual act of sexual abusing children to what I believed to be the medias use or moral disengagement (in pornography), it did reveal individuals desire to actually engage in these behaviors if it did not result in detection or punishment. I would like to bring to attention that the consequences of such behaviors that would affect the victims (children) were never brought up, but only the exposure and possible punishment of the perpetrator.
    As a result, I believe the only line separating these male students and actual perpetrators of child sexual abuse, is that one group outweighs the immoral behavior with social exposure and punishment, while the other is less concerned with consequences affecting them. Therefore, when this type of moral disengagement is exposed to the type of people who are less concerned or separate their behaviors from the possible punishments, there is greater likelihood that they were actually engage in these behaviors. So, In conclusion, I believe the use of moral disengagement by the media in the pornography industry can and should be correlated to rates of child sexual abuse.

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  19. Krishna Gupta says:

    How can we morally re-engage a morally disengaged person?
    Can anyone here show me an article which can help/guide me to re-engage the morally disengaged person.

    Both the aggressor and the victim are from my family. And I am neither victim nor aggressor. The aggressor is partially morally disengaged towards the victim due to some childhood situations and childhood environment.
    I want to help both the victim and the aggressor come out of their present mental status.

    • kathiemm says:

      Hi, Krishna. What morally disengaged people generally lack is EMPATHY.They are not good at putting themselves in the shoes of the other. There have been some programs designed to address moral disengagement. They generally focus on the development of empathy. If I can find a link to a relevant article online, I will post it in another reply.

      • LB says:

        Hi kathiemm ~

        This post and the comments that followed have been very helpful. I discovered your site when I was combining different words, trying to better understand the psychological mechanism which allows so many (apparently) ‘good’ people to accept as normal the terrible and inhumane acts committed by our government and its leaders.

        As a follow-up to your response to Krishna, I’m wondering if it’s possible for people to exercise a kind of *selective* empathy, either for those within their ‘tribe’, or else as a conditioned (and possibly unconscious) response to peer pressure and reward ~ which doesn’t make it any less genuine. Just somewhat limited.

        I’m thinking of post-election protesters who’ve (rightfully) taken a stand against the bigotry and hateful rhetoric of Trump and *some* of his supporters ~ but who also voted for Clinton, a candidate with a long history of aggressively championing oppressive, sometimes violent actions which have resulted in the suffering, exploitation, displacement or death of millions, both here and in other parts of the world.

        I find the moral disconnect deeply troubling, especially among intellectuals, religious leaders and people of faith.


        • kathiemm says:

          Dear LB. I am glad your search for understanding brought you to Engaging Peace. I think your suggestion regarding selective empathy is insightful and correct. (My knee-jerk response is to say “right on target,” but I have become very aware of the ways in which military terminology saturates and pollutes our language and I struggle to avoid it.) I too am deeply troubled about the moral disconnects that seem to be festering throughout the world today and contaminating human relationships. It is not true that everywhere always there has been universal cruelty within the human species. There have been some times, places, and peoples where empathy, brotherhood, sisterhood, familyhood seem to have prevailed more than in other times, places, and peoples. Right now, violence, hatred, and isms seem to be prevaling in the US and yet there are also millions of people in this country, like you, who are appalled by and strive against the hatreds and inhumanity that seem so abundant. Thank you.

          • LB says:

            Thanks for your thoughtful response, Kathiemm. It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone in my perspective. It gives me hope in a world where the temptation is always to deny our own complicity while demonizing the other, the outsider or the least among us.

            I’m grateful to have found your site last night during my sleepless wanderings.

  20. Pingback: Is it OK to kill innocent civilians to defeat international terrorism? Views from the U.S, Israel, and South Africa | Engaging Peace

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