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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: moral disengagement, moral standards, moral behavior, social cognitive theory, transgressive behavior, dehumanization, moral agency

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