220955434-Theory of Moral disengagement

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Section 1

Throughout history in many different countries and numerous cultures violence has been constantly expressed in a variety of violent behaviors. What, however, causes people to act and engage in violence? There are many factors in which violence becomes a means of expression and for the most part, violence can’t be explained with a single factor or reason. The theory of moral disengagement helps us view one of the many reasons concerning why people would carry out such acts of violence. According to Alvarez and Bachman (2008), the theory of moral disengagement argues that “Individuals learn not to act in ways that go against their own personal standards of morality because that brings about self-condemnation and self criticism.” So how can a situation of morality cause a person to behave violently? According to Alvarez and Bachman (2008), “Humans are very resourceful and have developed ways of selectively disengaging their moral prohibitions against negative and destructive behavior.” Each person has their own moral belief about what is right and what is wrong. To some extent, many people believe it would be considered wrong however only at specific times and in accordance to their own morality standards.

The theory of moral disengagement may help explain why people engage in violence. During moral disengagement people will act violently in order to achieve what they believe is morally right and will consider their actions to be justifiable. In many cases, the person projecting violence can perceive the opponent to whom he believes is immoral as something less than human, something so low that they can be punished very cruelly. This would be an act of dehumanization. According to Alvarez and Bachman (2008), dehumanization is a method of disengagement because “it is easier to remove ethical restrictions against violence when we perceive the victims to be less than us, or perhaps even less than human.” When people think this way about a victim whom they oppose or disagree with, they can easily dehumanize them and that can make it easier in their minds to attack the victim because they justify it as just and morally right. According to Deter, Sweitzer, and Trevino (2008), “Dehumanization and attribution of blame can disengage moral sanctions by reducing identification with the targets of harmful acts.” The theory of moral disengagement helps explain how violent behavior can be increased due to the disengagement ongoing in a persons mind, on what they strongly believe to be morally right or wrong.

According to the theory of moral disengagement, violence can be decreased by certain protective factors. One way in which this can be accomplished is by using the most common means of communication on a massive scale such as the media, newspapers, and settings in which many people come together as a large group. Sharing the information in this way is facilitated effectively. By using the media, a good strategy to decrease violence is to increase self awareness and morality as a whole. For example, by stating constantly in the news that it is morally better to compromise or get ideas circulating through protest but without the use of violence. I think this would work effectively due to the medium in which the persistent message being sent to the masses that it is not right to engage in violence if your beliefs are challenged. Often times the persecutors fail to have insight into their victim's point of view. According to Deter, Sweitzer, and Trevino (2008), “Psychologists who study moral cognition and action have highlighted the importance of imagining oneself in another’s place or taking the perspective of others." In other words, the reason to why such violent behavior happens much too often is due to people not having the slightest insight to the views of their victim. Thus understanding other peoples' perception a little better can help decrease violent behavior.

Section 2

A real life example of moral disengagement would be an individual or a group of people who seek to take the laws into their own hands, such as a vigilante group. For example, in Mexico City an enraged mob decided to take laws into their own hands and punish who they believed to be three corrupt cops involved in a kidnapping. According to Johnson (2004), “an enraged mob swarmed three federal police officers in the Mexico City suburb of San Juan Ixtayopan, beat them nearly lifeless then burned two of them alive while thousands watched live on national television. The locals who committed the crimes thought the victims were kidnappers."

Section 3

While the mob experiences moral disengagement because they feel that the laws are not nearly good enough to punish these three officers, this vigilante group decided to take laws into their own hands. They broke the law by torturing, burning and killing these officers. Moral disengagement plays a role in this type of behavior due to people acting out the violence to meet their own moral standards and being able to carry out such behavior by dehumanizing the perpetrator and becoming deindividuated in the large crowd. According to Hinduja (2008), “deindividuation theory, which originates from the field of social psychology, argues that individuals are extricated from responsibility for their actions simply because they no longer have an acute awareness of the identity of self and of others. That is, external and internal constraints that would typically regulate questionable behavior are rendered less effective via certain anonymizing and disinhibiting conditions of the social and environmental context." The people in the mob most likely were disengaged from their morals and perceived their own morals to be just and correct. The vigilante group dehumanized these officers and became deindividuated by the group due to the act of kidnapping, thus it made it easier to kill these three men. Moral disengagement played an evident role in this example, but what could anyone have done in order to prevent the violence to happen? Could we have used a protective factor by using the theory of moral disengagement? In this case, the vigilante group was extremely violent. They humiliated the officers and then tortured them by pouring gasoline on them and lighting them on fire; I think this must have had a strong moral disengagement in order to achieve such an act. In this particular case the vigilante group took the law into their own hands because they were sure the officers would not have gotten the just treatment for their crimes. Through the theory of moral disengagement, I believe that in order to stop such disengagement from happening the law should be changed so that it is equal to everyone who commits a crime, including police officers. By showing that everyone is equal and has the same opportunity to be brought to justice. Whether a criminal is a police officer or farm raiser, I believe they should be punished equally. This would change the amount of moral disengagement through the vigilante group and maybe decrease violence significantly.

Section 4

A well known example of extreme violent behavior is of the Columbine. In this particular example, two teenagers, Eric Harris eighteen years old, and Dylan Klebold seventeen years old, went to their high school, killed thirteen people and injured many more. According to James (2009), “Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attacked the suburban high school with automatic weapons and explosives, killing thirteen and injuring twenty-four." The exact reason to why these high school teenagers committed such violent act is not nor will it ever be one hundred percent certain. There are multiple reasons why someone would carry out such actions. Psychology researchers have been trying very hard to crack down on the reason to why these two boys acted in such a way. Since no concrete reason is yet certain I will offer one possible reason by using the theory of moral disengagement. The two boys attacked their classmates with automatic weapons and explosives, then after doing what they were there to do, they killed themselves. How can two boys commit such act? The theory of moral disengagement shows that these two boys were surely disengaged from society’s morals. This disengagement did not stop them from slaughtering the other students. Regardless of the case, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed these acts through moral disengagement and acted upon their own personal morals. Maybe they thought other people where immoral to their own personal standards and decided to kill them. According to Wikipedia, “Harris and Klebold were unpopular and frequent targets of bullying at their high school, described as outcasts. The experience of being bullied led them to bully others.” This background helps explain that these two boys were bullied and oppressed in high school which can be a cause for them to make this violent attack since they were oppressed they thought that killing their victims was a way of making their own justice. By killing the twelve students and the teacher, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were deindividuated by changing their appearances and by changing their thinking. It is evident to see that these two boys dehumanized the rest of society by thinking of the people they were out to kill as something less than human. This event was due to many factors but maybe could have been prevented by using the theory of moral disengagement. In a real life situation like this one it is hard to point out the risk factors and the protective factors because neither of them are one hundred percent sure to work. In a way maybe this event could have stopped from happening by controlling the different factors used by the media, from video games to movies. According to Wilkinson and Carr (2008) “Recent work on the relationship between adolescent violence and its outcomes has posted that aggression by young people who are exposed to violence can be viewed as an adaptive strategy that seeks to order dangerous and unpredictable environments." In an extremist way, maybe excluding all violence from the media, video games, movies, etc can dramatically help decrease violence. Also, violence could be decreased by supporting moral engagement instead of moral disengagement. Programs could be created in schools to enforce morally right behavior and ways to prevent violence. Programs such as an after school program that teach about violence and how to prevent it. Adding a mandatory class of moral engagement or violence awareness probably would have lowered the probability of such event from happening. The theory of moral disengagement is a very important factor in explaining violence and can be used to study and apply it to society to figure out ways in which this theory can be used to prevent such violence from happening. We have seen in these previously example that the theory of moral disengagement plays a crucial role in human violence.


Alvarez, Alex, & Bachman , Ronet (2008). Violence the enduring problem.Sage.Columbine High School massacre. In Wikipidea the free encyclopedia [Web]. from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

Detert, James R., Sweitzer, Vicki L., & Trevino, Linda K. Moral disengagement in ethical decision making: A study of antecedents and outcomes.http://web.ebscohost.com.mimas.calstatela.edu/ehost/pdf?vid=1&hid=5&sid=b47b579c-149b-4c16-b837-d514cd376d48%40sessionmgr7.

Hinduja, Sameer (2008). Deindividuation and internet software piracy. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 11, from http://web.ebscohost.com.mimas.calstatela.edu/ehost/pdf?vid=1&hid=8&sid=63687477-9ff2-40a8-891b-ce9487a1253c%40sessionmgr2

James, Susan D. (2009). Surviving columbine: What we got wrong. from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/story?id=7363898&page=1

Scott, Johnson (2004). Vigilante Justice; Angry citizens are taking the law into their own hands, creating what could become a crisis of democracy.. Newsweek International, from http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-18217431_ITM?email=router_prey@hotmail.com&library=Bruggemeyer%20Memorial%20Library.

Wilkinson, Deanna L. , & Carr, Patrick J. (2008). Violent youths’ responses to high levels of exposure to community violence: What violent events reveal about youth violence.http://web.ebscohost.com.mimas.calstatela.edu/ehost/pdf? vid=1&hid=5&sid=f18b9b04-0511-4773-b15e-0f1e635afe16%40sessionmgr3.

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