ArticlePDF Available

Moral Emotions and Bullying: A Cross-National Comparison of Differences between Bullies, Victims and Outsiders


Abstract and Figures

This study aims to analyse the role of moral emotions and reasoning in relation to children's behaviour in a bullying situation. On the basis of a peer nomination questionnaire [Salmivalli et al., 1996; Sutton and Smith, 1999], children from three different cities (Seville, Florence, and Cosenza) were assigned to one of three different status groups: bullies, victims, or outsiders. Subsequently they were interviewed about their feelings in relation to the task of putting themselves in the role of the bully in a bullying scenario. Specifically, emotions such as guilt and shame, expressed in a sense of moral responsibility, and indifference and pride, expressed in an attitude of moral disengagement, were investigated. Results showed significant differences between bullies, victims, and outsiders, with regard to moral disengagement, at both the affective and cognitive levels. Across the three cities, bullies, as compared to victims and outsiders, showed a higher level of disengagement emotions and motives when they were asked to put themselves in the role of bully. At a more detailed level, analyses of specific mechanisms of moral disengagement revealed that bullies possessed a main profile of egocentric reasoning. Besides the differences between bullies and victims, cross-cultural differences were also present. Compared to children from Seville, children from the south of Italy (Cosenza) attributed higher disengagement to the bullies. Findings are discussed in relation to specific cultural characteristics of this area. Aggr. Behav. 29:515–530, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Volume 29, pages 515–530 (2003)
Moral Emotions and Bullying:
A Cross-National Comparison of Differences
Between Bullies, Victims and Outsiders
Ersilia Menesini,
Virginia Sanchez,
Ada Fonzi,
Rosario Ortega,
Angela Costabile,
and Giorgio Lo Feudo
University of Florence, Florence, Italy
Seville University, Sevilla, Spain
Calabria University, Cosenza, Spain
This study aims to analyse the role of moral emotions and reasoning in relation to children’s behaviour
in a bullying situation. On the basis of a peer nomination questionnaire [Salmivalli et al., 1996; Sutton
and Smith, 1999], children from three different cities (Seville, Florence, and Cosenza) were assigned to
one of three different status groups: bullies, victims, or outsiders. Subsequently they were interviewed
about their feelings in relation to the task of putting themselves in the role of the bully in a bullying
scenario. Specifically, emotions such as guilt and shame, expressed in a sense of moral responsibility,
and indifference and pride, expressed in an attitude of moral disengagement, were investigated. Results
showed significant differences between bullies, victims, and outsiders, with regard to moral
disengagement, at both the affective and cognitive levels. Across the three cities, bullies, as compared
to victims and outsiders, showed a higher level of disengagement emotions and motives when they were
asked to put themselves in the role of bully. At a more detailed level, analyses of specific mechanisms of
moral disengagement revealed that bullies possessed a main profile of egocentric reasoning. Besides the
differences between bullies and victims, cross-cultural differences were also present. Compared to
children from Seville, children from the south of Italy (Cosenza) attributed higher disengagement to the
bullies. Findings are discussed in relation to specific cultural characteristics of this area. Aggr. Behav.
29:515–530, 2003. r2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Key Words: bullying; emotions; guilt; shame; moral disengagement
Grant sponsor: European Commission; Grant number: CT97–0139. The research undertaken in Florence was
supported in part by MURST ‘‘Co-financed Projects 2000’’ under the title ‘‘Benessere e malessere nelle relazioni tra
coetanei: fattori cognitivi ed emotivi.’’
Correspondence to: Ersilia Menesini, Dipartimento di Psicologia, Via S. Niccolo
´,93, 50125, Firenze, Italy. E-mail:
Received 26 March 2002; amended version accepted 16 September 2002
Published online in Wiley Interscience ( DOI: 10.1002/ab.10060
r2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Literature that has focused on the psychological characteristics of bullies claims there are
two main approaches to the study of the relationship between social cognition and social
behaviour, and specifically, between emotions and bullying. The first is represented by an
information-processing model that views aggressive behaviour as resulting from processing
biases in one or more steps in a six-stage social information process [Crick and Dodge, 1994;
Dodge et al., 1986; Dodge and Feldman, 1990]. Applied to bullies, the social skills deficit
model would suggest that they have deficits similar to those of aggressive children, in the
sense that they attribute hostile intentions to others. They have a more restricted repertoire of
possible answers to problematic social situations, more easily enact aggressive behaviour, and
value it as productive for personal goals. In contrast, the second perspective stresses the role
of adaptive motivation to explain bullying behaviour [Smith, 1991; Smith et al., 1993; Sutton
et al., 1999a]. This perspective considers the deficit label to be inappropriate in relation to
bullies. Rather than misinterpreting social cues, or having a limited range of responses, some
bullies may simply be choosing goals whereby they maintain their dominance, protecting
their status and reputation by aggressive means. Dodge [1991], although his relevant studies
focus on social skills deficits, warns against trying to explain all types of aggression in terms
of a deficit. Thus, this second approach suggests that bullies are skilled manipulators who use
their psychological skills to control the minds of others and cause them distress. Sutton et al.
[1999b] found that bullies demonstrated higher abilities than controls and victims in a second
order theory of mind test and in other measures of social cognition [Smorti and Ciucci, 2000].
These authors spoke of ‘‘Machiavellism’’ to describe the bullies’ attitudes, as they were often
aware of others’ feelings but unable or unwilling to allow these feelings to affect them.
A recent review by Arsenio and Lemerise [2001] addresses the question of the opposition
between the two models stating that the two perspectives appear to be using two different
underlying definitions of social competence. Sutton et al. [1999a] focus on social competence
as a child’s success at attaining his or her individual goals. In this regard, bullies appear very
competent. Conversely, Crick and Dodge [1994] take a broader view of social competence
that includes the judgements of significant others. Within this model, aggression can’t be
considered a competent behaviour, since it is intentionally aimed at hurting another person.
A relevant approach to clarifying the problem is the distinction between reactive and
proactive aggression. According to Dodge et al. [1997], these two aggressive types present
different developmental trajectories and concurrent adjustments, and they involve specific
social information processing patterns. In particular, whilst reactive aggressive children
present deficits in decoding other’s intentions, proactive aggressive children show deficits in
the final stages of the Social Information Process (SIP), demonstrating difficulties in
understanding the negative consequences that aggression can have on other children. They
hold the beliefs that violence can give them personal and positive outcomes. Within this
frame, a key role seems to be played by the moral values and the moral emotions which can
be selected and experienced in certain circumstances. According to Arsenio and Fleiss [1996],
what proactive aggressive children and bullies lack is not simply the cognitive ability in one or
more steps in the SIP model, but any sense that victimizing others for personal gains is
morally wrong.
We share this perspective, which sees bullies’ behaviour as significantly related to their
moral understanding of consequences of antisocial behaviour, and in particular we underline
the role of the emotions surrounding moral transgressions such as guilt and shame. Which
516 Menesini et al.
emotional appraisal do bullies have of a bullying episode? How do they perceive their role?
Do they feel great for having been tough, or do they feel guilty or ashamed for what they
have done? How do they justify their feelings and emotions?
This study is a first attempt to investigate moral emotion attributions and reasoning related
to the perception of moral transgression in a bullying scenario. Specifically, we will focus on
the following moral emotions: guilt, shame, indifference, and pride [Eisenberg, 1998, 2000;
Fergusson and Stegge, 1995; Lewis, 1971, 1992; Saarni, 1999; Tangney, 1995]. These
emotions are highly related to moral behaviour and play a fundamental role in regulating the
individual’s sense of responsibility towards other people.
Studies about guilt have confirmed the relationship between a good level of this emotion
and pro-social moral behaviour [Eisenberg, 2000; Eisenberg and Fabes 1991, 1995; Fabes
et al., 1993; Hastings and Zahn-Waxler, 1998; Hoffman, 1998, 2000; Zahn-Waxler et al.,
1992, 1995]. For example, Chapman et al. [1987] found that children who attributed more
guilt to the perpetrator of a moral transgression had higher levels of pro-social behaviour in
different laboratory settings. Another study concluded that children who presented with
higher levels of guilt were more likely to try and repair a negative action [Tangney, 1998].
According to Lewis [1971], guilt is generally a less painful and devastating experience than
shame because its primary concern is with a particular behaviour, something apart from self.
Guilt involves a sense of tension, remorse, and regret over the bad action.
Shame, on the other hand, is an acutely painful emotion that is typically accompanied
by a sense of worthlessness and powerlessness. It often motivates an avoidance response,
a desire to flee from the shame-inducing situation, and to disappear [Lewis, 1971;
Tangney et al., 1992]. Although these two emotions may differ from each other to some
extent, both guilt and shame can be defined as moral emotions, and a high degree of
overlap between them has been found in several studies [Tangney, 1998]. This correla-
tion between the two emotions has been recently addressed by research aimed to differen-
tiate specific antecedents of guilt and shame. According to this study [Olthof et al., 2000],
guilt is often elicited in a situation in which an individual violates the rule that a person
should not cause harm to others or disadvantage them in any way. Shame, by contrast,
is not only related to the moral value of an event, but to the personal sense of having
adopted an ‘‘unwanted identity.’’ Some behaviours can create an unwanted identity in
many different contexts. Both lack of coherence and ability can elicit feelings of shame,
although a harmful situation or an act of transgression can also expose the self to
others’ evaluation, thereby provoking a sense of shame. According to Olthof et al. [2000],
a context of moral transgression can be characterised as an elicitor of both guilt and
shame, whereas other situations which reveal a person’s incompetence and inadequacy can be
considered as elicitors of shame alone.
By contrast, a state of indifference, expressed by the lack of negative emotions in response
to a detrimental behaviour, can reveal the absence of empathic feelings towards victims and
the need to deactivate moral controls in a context of rule violation. Pride is generally
considered a positive self-evaluative emotion [Lewis, 1992] which occurs in many situations
where a person is satisfied about his or her own performance. Of course, the function of this
emotion is different in a context of moral transgression. Here the feeling of pride has the
meaning of focusing just on personal gains and advantages of the perpetrator, and not
considering the consequences for the victims.
During an act of transgression a person who violates a moral rule can experience guilt or
shame for the harm done to the victim, or can feel elation or pride in his success. In this case
Moral Emotions and Bullying 517
feelings of pride may reveal an attitude of disengagement from the victim and a deficient
sense of personal responsibility on the side of the subject. According to Bandura [1991] this
process of moral disengagement may express the need of participants to deactivate moral
controls and personal sanctions and to justify their negative behaviour.
In summary, our prediction is that, in response to repeated aggressive attacks such as
bullying, children may appraise the situation in terms of responsibility, or conversely in terms
of disengagement. Specifically, the model, partially adapted by Lewis [1992] and Olthof et al.
[2000], (see Fig. 1) considers guilt and shame on one side of a possible continuum, these being
emotions of responsibility that express moral condemnation of negative behaviour.
Indifference and pride are placed on the opposite side of the same model, representing
emotions of disengagement from the detrimental effects that such behaviour has on the
victims. We expect children, in justifying their answers, to develop rationales both at
responsibility and disengagement level.
In relation to the main focus of the study: i.e., children’s behavioural characteristics in
terms of bully, victim, and other roles, we expect a higher level of emotions of disengagement
in bullies as compared to other non-aggressive children. As previously defined, guilt and
shame, as emotions of responsibility, can inhibit disobedient, unruly, and defiant behaviour
in children and adolescents, whereas those who repeatedly commit acts of aggression may
become inured to this type of behaviour, exhibiting dull emotional responses [Bjo
et al., 2000; Bybee, 1998; Hasting and Zahn-Waxler, 1998; Tremblay et al., 1994;]. This seems
to be the case for bullies, who generally feel indifferent to their victim’s suffering, or are
proud about the benefits they receive from the situation [Olweus, 1993]. Indirect evidence of
this mechanism comes also from a study on reactive and proactive aggressive children
followed for four years [Dodge et al., 1997], which found that the proactive aggressive
students feel more emotionally positive than all other children after aggressive interactions.
Besides, a study on cognitive processes of moral disengagement confirmed that bullies
exhibited higher levels of moral disengagement compared to victims and controls, and this
relationship increased in significance for bullies with the highest scores on a bullying scale
[Menesini et al., 1999].
Another set of variables which will be addressed in the study are the age and the cultural
differences in our sample. Specifically, two age groups of nine- and 13–year–olds were
selected, because children’s understanding of emotions and social cognitive reasoning are
known to improve with age [Saarni et al., 1998]. Although we might expect an increase of
moral sensibility, other studies on pro-bullying attitude show in the same period an increase
of admiration towards bullies and a decrease of empathy towards the victims [Menesini et al.,
Emotions of Responsibility Emotions of Disengagement
guilt & shame indifference & pride
responsibility reasoning disengagement reasonin
Figure 1. Model of moral emotions attribution and justification
518 Menesini et al.
1997; Rigby and Slee, 1991]. How can this trend be related to responsibility and
disengagement emotions? Given the results on pro-bullying attitudes, we expected that, in
a bullying scenario, older children would be more tolerant, attributing higher disengagement
to themselves in the role of the bully.
Another relevant issue is how culture plays a role, not only in the incidence of the
problem in different countries, as reported in several cross-cultural studies [Smith et al.,
1999], but also at the level of emotional representation and mechanisms underlying the
problem. We carried out parallel studies in two cities in Italy and one in Spain to determine
how some findings might be culture-specific or general. How do bullies differ in different
cultures? Which emotional or cognitive mechanisms are relevant to explain bullying
behaviour in Italy and in Spain? We expect higher levels of justifications and disengage-
ment in the cultures where bullying and violence are more widespread and supported by
specific beliefs.
In summary the aims of this study are:
1. to investigate differences between bullies, victims, and outsiders in the attribution
of moral emotions - responsibility and disengagement - to the bully in a bullying
2. to analyse the cognitive motives underlying these attributions and how they might vary in
relation to the status, as either a bully, victim, or outsider;
3. to identify possible cross-cultural and developmental differences in the participants.
Three European cities took part in the study: Seville (southern Spain), Florence
(central Italy), and Cosenza (southern Italy). During a preliminary phase, data were
collected in several schools and classes from the following samples: 296 children in
Seville, 134 of whom attend the 4
grade and 162 the 8
grade; 657 children in Florence,
294 from 4
grade and 363 from 8
grade; 220 pupils in Cosenza, 90 from 4
and 130 from 8
grade. Mean age was 9.7 years old for 4
graders and 13.1 years for 8
The initial samples were recruited by direct contact with head teachers and teachers.
Schools consented to take part in the study voluntarily. All the children belonged to middle-
class neighbourhoods and received their parents’ permission to take part in the study. At this
stage, participants were selected by means of a version of the ‘‘Participant Roles
Questionnaire’’ [Salmivalli et al., 1996], adapted to apply to younger children by Sutton
and Smith [1999]. Four items on victimisation were added to this scale in order to improve
the validity and reliability of the victimisation subscale [Perry et al., 1988]. In each city sample
a preliminary analysis of the data was run to confirm the four scales identified by Sutton and
Smith [1999]. In the three city samples (Seville, Florence, and Cosenza) alpha indexes were
the following: pro-bullying scale: Seville = .97, Florence = .93, Cosenza = .95; victim scale:
Seville = .91, Florence = .92, Cosenza = .92; outsider scale: Seville = .76, Florence = .70,
Cosenza = .74, and defender scale: Seville = .81, Florence = .84, Cosenza = .80. Given the
consistency of the scales in the three samples, individual scores were standardized at age level
in each sample and children were categorised as bullies, victims, or outsiders using the
Moral Emotions and Bullying 519
following criteria:
Bully Role. = Pro-bullying Z score 4= 1 and Z Victimo0, Z Defendero0,
Z Outsidero0;
Victim Role. = Z Victimisation 4= 1 and Pro-bullying Z score o0, ZDefender o0,
Z Outsider o0;
Outsider Role. = Z Outsider 4= 1 and Pro-bullying Z score o0, Z Victim o0,
Z Defender o0.
The final sample consisted of 179 children, aged nine and 13 years old, from the three cities.
The roles ascribed to the children were as follows: Seville: 18 bullies (15 boys and 3 girls), 17
victims (9 boys and 8 girls), and 24 outsiders (6 boys and 18 girls); Florence: 21 bullies
(12 boys and 9 girls), 20 victims (10 boys and 10 girls), and 19 outsiders (9 boys and 10 girls);
Cosenza: 15 bullies (15 boys and 0 girls), 13 victims (6 boys and 7 girls), and 32 outsiders
(7 boys and 25 girls). The three samples were balanced in terms of age, but not for gender,
since in Cosenza the bullies were just boys, and in the Seville sample we had only three
bully-girls. The high level of bully-boys in Cosenza and Seville samples is consistent with the
findings of another study carried out by one of the authors using a similar methodology to
select bullies and victims [Menesini et al., 2000].
Specifically, the use of cross-gender nominations in the class increases the probability of
having bully-boys rather than girls. In the Florence sample it was necessary to have a high
number of subjects in the initial phase to balance gender composition in each participant
Furthermore, given the complexity of a cross-cultural study, we decided to compare very
extreme groups of bullies and victims using a more severe criterion to select participants
(Z score 41 instead of simply higher than other scales) and to limit the groups just to the
main roles (i.e., bullies, victims, and outsiders) [Salmivalli et al. 1996; Sutton and Smith,
Attribution of moral emotions was tested by means of a reduced version of The Scan
Bullying Test [Almeida et al., 2001]
which was administered within a few weeks of the
preliminary selection test. This measure presents a prototypical story of peer bullying using a
set of 10 cartoons, each portraying different bullying scenes. The narrative line of the
cartoons emphasises a consistent pattern of behaviour and an imbalance of power between
the bully and the victim. Characters were drawn with affectively neutral expressions and the
vignettes were presented without verbal narrative or comments. Two sets of stories were used,
one with male and one with female characters.
During presentation of the cartoons, children were interviewed using a semi-structured
interview devised to capture the attribution of moral emotions to themselves in the role of the
The questions used were: ‘‘If you were this boy or girl in the story (pointing to the bully),
would you feel yy (guilty, ashamed, indifferent, or proud)? Why would you feel this way?
The order of the four questions was counterbalanced.
The authors wish to thank their colleagues, A. Almeida and C. Del Barrio, for kindly allowing them to use The Scan
Bullying Test
520 Menesini et al.
Coding Procedure
We considered two main dimensions in the children’s answers:
1) The attribution of moral emotions to self as a bully (guilt, shame, indifference, and pride).
2) The rationales children reported to justify their emotion attribution.
Attribution of Moral Emotions to Self as a Bully
From the participants’ responses, we computed two categorical measures for each child:
Attribution of emotion of responsibility:
*if the participant did not attribute guilt or shame to the bully, the score was 0;
*if he attributed one of the two emotions to the bully, the score was 1.
Attribution of emotion of disengagement:
*if the participant did not attribute indifference or pride to the bully, the score was 0;
*if he attributed one of the two emotions to the bully, the score was 1.
Children’s Rationales for Justifying Emotion Attribution
In this section we coded children’s answers to the question ‘‘Why?’’ The majority of
children tried to give a justification for their emotion attribution. We considered justification
for guilt or shame together as responsibility motives, and justifications for indifference or
pride as disengagement motives.
Moral Responsibility Motives
We clustered children’s answers into three categories. These three categories are adapted
from Piaget’s [1932] and Kohlberg’s theories [1984] about progressive internalisation of
moral values.
Egocentric Responsibility. This category refers to the fact that child’s moral evaluation
takes into account mainly external consequences of the action, either for the perpetrator or
for the victim. The child tries to avoid negative consequences for self or for others, and the
sense of responsibility is mainly related to these two aspects. Kohlberg and Piaget included
this type of moral judgement at the level of ‘‘heteronomous’’ or ‘‘pre-conventional’’ morality.
In our task, examples of this type are: ‘‘I would feel guilty because the teachers could punish
me later on,’’ or ‘‘If something very bad happened to the victim I would feel guilty or
Conventional rules. This dimension has been called ‘‘conventional’’ based on
Kohlberg’s meaning. Children follow the rules and norms of the group (family, school,
etc.). The main motivation is to live up to what is expected of you by people close to you, or
what people generally expect of persons in your role. The important aspect is ‘‘being good.’’
[Kohlberg, 1984]. For these children, bullies behave in a negative way because they do not
respect conventional rules and norms. Examples are: I would feel guilty because ‘‘we all
should be friends,’’ and ‘‘If I was the bully I would feel guilty, because I’m doing bad things.’’
Empathy. This dimension refers to the capacity of the child to think about people
involved, and about their feelings and experiences. It also reflects the capacity to take into
account different perspectives. Some examples of this category are: ‘‘I would feel guilty later
Moral Emotions and Bullying 521
when I thought about what happened to that boy,’’ and ‘‘He (the bully) feels ashamed
because he knows that the victim is having a difficult time.’’
Moral Disengagement Motives
We grouped children’s answers into three groups, partly taking into consideration the
mechanisms identified by Bandura et al. [1996] in relation to moral disengagement.
Egocentric disengagement. The child stresses the positive consequences and personal
advantages he or she might attain from the situation, denying and distorting the
consequences for the victim of the attack. Children disregard the consequences of an action
by simply ignoring the victim and focusing on the personal benefits. Examples of this
category are: ‘‘I would feel great because I got the attention of other children!’’ or ‘‘I would
not feel guilty because it was a joke.’’
Deviant Rules. Children’s responses reflect the influence of some kinds of norms. From a
moral perspective, we can consider these rules as deviant or opposite to societally approved
norms. Kohlberg [1984] mentioned the effect of deviant rules on moral development, and
how dangerous they might be at this stage of late childhood and early adolescence.
Mechanisms children use at this level of moral disengagement are: diffusion of responsibility,
or displacement of responsibility onto others. Examples of this category are: ‘‘I am
accustomed to behave in this way’’ ‘‘The others do the same’’ ‘‘The others just laugh, so
I do too.’’
Absence of Empathy. Aggressors are often described as lacking empathy and the ability
to see the victim as a person with feelings, hopes, and concerns. In terms of moral
disengagement, this category can be considered similar to the mechanism of dehumanisation
of victims. Children give answers such as: ‘‘I don’t feel guilty because I don’t think about it’’
and ‘‘I would feel indifferent because the victim doesn’t suffer.’’
Three coders, one for each city’s sample, worked together to code children’s interviews.
To ensure accurate cross-national comparison, coders had initial training, and consistency
of coding was assessed from a sample of the interview transcripts (15%). Based on
Cohen’s Kappa, inter-rater reliabilities for reasoning (motives) were as follows:
(Egocentric responsibility, K = 0.71; Conventional rules, K = 0.69; Empathy, K = 0.81;
Egocentric disengagement, K = 0.70; Deviant rules, K = 0.69; Absence of empathy,
K = 0.80).
1. Attribution of Emotions of Responsibility and Emotions of disengagement to Self
as the Bully
To investigate emotion attribution in relation to age, status, and city groups, logistic
regression analyses (enter method) were employed, using the factors: age, status, and
city as predictors and the two categorical variables ‘‘emotions of responsibility to self
as a bully and emotions of disengagement to self as a bully’’ as outcome variables. To
analyse at a dichotomous level, status and city effects, contrasts were made between
victims and bullies, and outsiders and bullies for the status effect, and between Florence
and Seville, and Cosenza and Seville for the city effect. Results of these analysis are reported
on Table I.
522 Menesini et al.
For the attribution of responsibility to self as bully the model failed to reach a significant
level (Chi-Square = 4.85 df = 5 p = .43), therefore no significant variables seemed able
to predict the results. For the attribution of disengagement to self as a bully, the
regression model resulted significant : Chi-Square = 35.12 df = 5, po.00001. In terms of
specific variables, significant effects of the two status contrasts were found. Specifically, being
a victim or an outsider decreased the probability of attributing emotions
of disengagement. From logistic regression the results were respectively: victim-bullies:
B=.1.49; po.001; and outsiders-bullies: B = .92; po.05. The percentages for each
status group were: 66.7% for bullies, 34% for victims, and 52% for outsiders. Significant
effects of location were also identified in relation to the contrast between Cosenza and
Seville (B = 1.88; po.0001), whereas the contrast between Florence and Seville was not
significant. At a descriptive level, percentages were: 33.9% for Seville, 45% for Florence,
and 75% for Cosenza.
At a more qualitative level, Chi-Squares analyses were run on the four original
emotion attribution scores by status and separately for each city sample. Significant
effects were found for attribution of pride in Seville (Chi-Square (2, N = 59) = 6.88
po.05 and in Cosenza (Chi-Square (2, N = 59) = 7.56; po.05). In both samples,
bullies reported a higher level of pride as compared to victims and outsiders. Although
not significant, the percentages of pride attribution in Florence were in the same direction
as in Seville and Cosenza. Besides, in Florence we had a higher attribution of indiffe-
rence by bullies as compared to the two other groups (Chi-Square (2, N = 44) = 5.55
p = .06).
TABLE I. Summary of the logistic regression analysis for variables predicting the attribution of emotion of
responsibility and emotion of disengagement (N = 179)
Emotions of responsibility
attributed to self as bully
Emotions of disengagement
attributed to self as bully
Age B = .69 B = .15
SE = .38 SE = .34
Wald = 3.29 Wald = .19
Status 1 B = .03 B = 1.49
Victim-bully SE = .50 SE = .44
Wald = .00 Wald = 11.22
Status 2 B = .19 B = .92
Outsider-bully SE = .45 SE = .40
Wald = .18 Wald = 5.17
City 1 B = .11 B = .47
Florence-Sevilla SE = .44 SE = .40
Wald = .06 Wald = 1.38
City 2 B = .57 B = 1.88
Cosenza-Sevilla SE = .47 SE = .43
Wald = 1.46 Wald = 19.29
Model’s Chi-Squares w
= 4.85 w
= 35.12
df = 5 df = 5
Moral Emotions and Bullying 523
2. Children’s motives for responsibility and disengagement
The effect of status, age, and city on the individual motives were investigated by means of
six logistic regression analyses. On the whole these analyses are consistent with the previous
ones on emotion attributions (see Table II).
For the egocentric responsibility, the model resulted significant : Chi-Square = 15.19
df = 5, po.01. Status contrasts were significant: victims-bullies, B = 1.07; po.05;
outsiders-bullies B = .93; po.05). Being a victim or an outsider decreased the probability
of mentioning egocentric responsibility as a motive to justify the sense of guilt or shame in the
cartoon task. The percentages for bullies, victims, and outsiders are reported on Figure 2.
City contrast was significant only for the comparison between Cosenza and Seville:
B= 1.35; po.05. (Descriptive frequencies were 27.1% for Seville, 20% for Florence, and
8.3% for Cosenza).
For the conventional rules the model was significant : Chi-Square = 17.82 df = 5, po.01.
Among the predictive variables, age registered a significant effect: older students reported less
frequently using these motives to justify their responsibility of attribution to self as a bully as
compared to younger students (69.1% vs 82.7%; B = .1.00; po.05). The two city contrasts
were also significant: Florence-Seville: B = .94; po.05; Cosenza-Seville: B = 1.44; po.01.
Conventional rules, in absolute the most used rationale, were significantly higher in the
two Italian cities, Florence and Cosenza, as compared to Seville (respectively: 78.3,
86.7 and 64.4).
The model of empathy did not reach a level of significance.
For the egocentric disengagement the model was significant : Chi-Square = 25.35 df = 5,
po.0001. Significant contrasts related to the status were: victims-bullies: B = 1.29; po.01
and outsiders-bullies: B = 1.14; po.01. In line with the general data on attribution of
disengagement, being a victim or an outsider decreased the probability of mentioning this
motive. Percentages are reported on Figure 2. City effect was significant only for the contrast
Cosenza-Seville (B = 1.55; po.001) with percentage values as followed: Seville = 27.1%,
Florence = 43.3% and Cosenza = 60%.
The model for deviant rules did not reach a level of significance.
For absence of empathy, although the model was significant : Chi-Square = 20.89 df = 5,
po.001, no single factor reached a level of significance.
In relation to our first aim, i.e. investigating status differences in the attribution of moral
emotions to bullies, significant effects were found for attribution of disengagement emotions.
Confirming previous findings in this area [Menesini et al., 1999], bullies show higher levels of
moral disengagement as compared to victims and other children. Analyses of the specific
justifications revealed that bullies have a profile of egocentric reasoning that is particularly
evident when they justify attribution of disengagement to self in the role of the bully. It seems
that when they think about themselves in this role, personal motives and the advantages of
bullying behaviour are sufficient to justify negative and detrimental behaviour. Children, and
particularly bullies, reported that they would feel proud or indifferent simply because they
reason in an egocentric and selfish way and value the personal benefits of these actions.
This cognitive inclination seems to be active also at younger ages. A recent study by Dunn
and Hughes [2001] has found that preschool children who engaged in violent pretend play
524 Menesini et al.
TABLE II. Summary of the logistic regression analyses for variables predicting the 6 motives of responsibility and disengagement (N =179)
Age Status 1
Status 2
City 1
City 2
Cosenza- Sevilla
Chi- Squares
Egocentric responsibility B = .59 B = 1.07 B = .93 B = .38 B = 1.35 w
= 15.19
SE = .43 SE= .52 SE = .47 SE = .45 SE = .56 df = 5
Wald = 1.90 Wald= 4.26
Wald = 3.91
Wald = .71 Wald = 5.70
Conventional rules B = 1.00 B = .44 B = .72 B = .94 B = 1.44 w
= 17.82
SE = .39 SE = .47 SE = .44 SE = .44 SE = .49 df = 5
Wald = 6.60
Wald = .87 Wald = 2.65 Wald= 4.53
Wald = 8.67
Empathy B = .28 B = .66 B = .16 B = .10 B = .34 w
= 3.63
SE = .38 SE = .49 SE = .47 SE = .47 SE = .45 df = 5
Wald = .53 Wald = 1.83 Wald = .13 Wald= .05 Wald = .58 p = .60
Egocentric disengagement B = .006 B = 1.29 B = 1.14 B = .73 B = 1.55 w
= 25.35
SE = .33 SE = .43 SE = .39 SE = .41 SE = .42 df = 5
Wald = .003 Wald= 8.90
Wald = 8.35
Wald = 3.13 Wald = 13.69
Deviant rules B = 1.19 B = 1.53 B = .22 B = .63 B = 1.05 w
= 8.35
SE = .69 SE = 1.12 SE = .66 SE = .91 SE = .85 df = 5
Wald = 2.99 Wald= 1.86 Wald = .11 Wald = .48 Wald = 1.51 p = .14
Absence of empathy B = .78 B = 1.13 B = 1.26 B = 1.96 B = .29 w
= 20.89
SE = .56 SE = 1.18 SE = .68 SE = 1.10 SE = .56 df = 5
Wald = 1.93 Wald= .91 Wald = 3.43 Wald = 3.17 Wald = .27 po.001
Moral Emotions and Bullying 525
during kindergarten were more likely to report a low level of moral sensibility towards other
peers two years later. Particularly these children, at six years, are less likely to give empathic
explanations of victims’ feelings and more likely to give hedonistic and selfish explanations of
how the aggressors might feel in negative interactions.
In our data the egocentric inclination was also active when bullies reasoned in terms of
personal responsibility. In this situation 30% of the bullies showed some kind of awareness of
the negative effects of their behaviour on the victims, but what they feared more was the
personal consequences they thought they might have to face later on, i.e. being punished
themselves, or that any serious effects of their behaviour on the victim might lead to
disciplinary measures against them as perpetrators.
Although there were differences between the three cities, it is important to note that the
profile of the bullies in terms of disengagement and egocentrism was constant, independent of
cultural effects. The personal and behavioural characteristics of bullies seem therefore to be
consistent across different European cultures. Getting back to the group of proactive
aggressive children—often considered similar to bullies—literature reports their skills in
decoding the intentions of others. Instead of using this ability for prosocial acts, they use
illegitimate aggression to advance their own goals at the clear expense of others [Arsenio and
Lemerise, 2001]. In terms of values and goals, in their social information process, there seems
to be an asymmetry between themselves and other people: although they perceive others’
intentions and needs,what they value more are themselves as compared to the partners.
Although we concur with Sutton and other colleagues who argue that bullying behaviour is
not simply a matter of lacking social skills in cognitive and narrative tests [Smorti et al., 2000;
Sutton et al., 1999a], our data show that, in specific situations, bullies have some difficulty in
assuming a perspective that is different from their own point of view. Our results and the
Mean percentages of motives by status
Figure 2. Percentages of egocentric responsibility and disengagement in bullies, victims and outsiders.
526 Menesini et al.
design of the study are not able to clarify if this selfish inclination is a deficit or simply a
matter of different values. Further research focused on perspective-taking in relevant
affective and cognitive situations could disentangle values from cognitive skills to explain this
egocentric behaviour in bullies.
To some regards, this study also confirms Bandura’s social cognitive theory [1991] which
predicts circular relation between reprehensible behaviour and level of moral disengagement.
Specifically, bullies can easily de-activate moral controls to justify themselves and their
negative behaviour, and these cognitive mechanisms, in turn, can reinforce negative
Furthermore, some of the findings can add new information to the knowledge of the
development of moral sensibility in childhood and adolescence. The high level of egocentric
justification underlines that one of the main mechanisms children of this age use to justify
their behaviour is a selfish attitude which was not considered in Bandura’s original model
[1991], mainly focused on interpersonal and social mechanisms. This mechanism, so relevant
for the task of emotion attribution, can be considered a former developmental pattern which
remains active also at later ages, especially for bullies.
In relation to cross-cultural effects, one main difference emerged between Cosenza and
Seville, both at the level of attribution and of justification. In fact, Cosenza’s children
attributed higher disengagement to themselves in the role of the bully in comparison to the
Spanish children and consequently they also used a higher level of egocentric disengagement
motives. Florence usually showed intermediate values between the two extremes. This finding
highlights a particularly worrying level of disengagement in Cosenza, which can be discussed
in relation to some specific characteristics of the southern part of Italy. For instance, recent
data on crime statistics in Italy show a higher percentage of violent offences in the southern
part of the country, probably because in these areas young people are more prone to be
involved in criminal actions, owing to a strong presence of organized crime and high
unemployment [Menesini and Modiano, 2002]. At the school level, where risk factors can be
related mainly to bullying and aggressive behaviour, several authors tell about ‘‘Mafia-like
feelings’’ which often pervade school communities and people’s habits and behaviours
[Bacchini et al., 2000; Di Maria and Piazza, 1998]. Probably, this widespread culture, where
organized crime is almost accepted as a normal event in everyday life, can easily support
mechanisms of moral disengagement in young children, especially the more aggressive
[Bandura et al., 1996].
Contrary to our expectations, only one age difference was found in relation to the use of
conventional rules to justify attribution of responsibility. Specifically, younger children tend
to report this motive more often as compared to their 13–year-old peers. This confirms a
developmental pattern originally described by Kohlberg [1984]: younger children are more
prone to feel responsible in relation to conventional and group norms. From a developmental
perspective, we can notice that the majority of students taking part in the study focus their
rationales at two levels of moral reasoning: egocentric and conventional rules, with very few
answers at the level of empathic feelings, both for attribution of responsibility and for
attribution of disengagement.
Finally, there are both strengths and limitations to this study. From a positive perspective,
it presents a first analysis of the moral emotional mechanisms that underlie bullying
problems. Interesting results have emerged, related to the absence of moral emotions and
sense of responsibility in bullies as compared to other children. Deeper insights into this area
have important implications for intervention. In fact, several intervention models propose an
Moral Emotions and Bullying 527
approach which is focused on children’s moral reasoning. For instance, one of the main aims
of the ‘‘whole school policy’’ [Smith and Sharp, 1994] is to change the school ethos. Along
similar lines, Rigby [1996] refers specifically to a moral approach to deal with bullies in the
classroom, and the Save project [Ortega, 1997] also maintains that education based on
emotions and moral values may help to prevent bullying and aggression in school. A better
understanding of how and why children feel responsible may therefore lead to the
development of more appropriate intervention strategies. Given the exploratory nature of
this study, some limitations are also present, these predominantly related to methodological
difficulties. The study relies mainly on a self-report semi-structured interview. Further
investigation is therefore needed, employing either observational techniques or standardised
questionnaires, both to confirm these current findings and to deepen our understanding of the
differences between bullies and victims, and also between children from different cultures.
Another limitation of the study is that we did not take into account possible gender
differences. In contrast to the samples used in previous research [Salmivalli et al., 1996;
Sutton and Smith, 1999], the gender composition of our sample was not balanced. As in other
studies carried out in Italy [Menesini et al., 2000], bullies were mainly boys, and a high
number of girls belonged to the outsiders. This negated the possibility of analysing how
gender may interact with status, and to identify effects of status independent of gender.
Further research, in addition to replication of the current study, controlling for possible
gender effects, may thus contribute to our knowledge of the affective and cognitive aspects of
roles played within a bullying scenario, and of the relevance of gender to the roles of bully
and victim.
The authors wish to thank Riccardo Luccio and Caterina Primi for statistical advice.
Almeida AMT, Del Barrio C, Marques M, Gutie
´rrez H,
Van der Meulen K. 2001. Scan- bullying: a script-
cartoon narrative to assess cognitions, emotions and
coping strategies in bullying situations. In: Martinez
M, editor. Prevention and Control of Aggression and
the Impact on its Victims. New York: Kluwer
Academic/Plenum Pub.
Arsenio FW, Lemerise EA. 2001 .Varieties of Childhood
Bullying: Values, Emotion Processes and Social
Competence. Soc Dev 1:59–73.
Arsenio WF, Fleiss K. 1996. Typical and Behaviorally
disruptive children’s understanding of the emotional
consequences of sociomoral events. Br J Dev Psychol
Bacchini D, Amodeo AL, Comito M, Di Clemente R.
2000. ‘‘Pensare alle prepotenze, fare prepotenze’’:
un’esperienza di gruppo con alunni e insegnanti. In:
Menesini E, editor. Bullismo che fare? Prevenzione e
strategie d’intervento nella scuola.Firenze: Giunti
p 160–189.
Bandura A. 1991. Social Cognitive Theory of moral
thought and action. In: Kurtines J, Gewirtz WY,
editors. Handbook of moral behaviour and develop-
ment. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Vol. 1:Theory.
Bandura A, Barbaranelli C, Caprara GV, Pastorelli C.
1996. Mechanisms of Moral disengagement in the
exercise of Moral Agency. J Pers Soc Psychol 2:
¨rkqvist K, Osterman K, Kaukiainen A. 2000. Social
intelligence-Empathy = Aggression? Aggress Viol
Behav 5:191–200.
Bybee J, editor. 1998. Guilt and children. San Diego:
Academic Press.
Chapman M, Zahn-Waxler C, Cooperman G, Iannotti
R. 1987. Empathy and responsibility in the motiva-
tion of children’s helping. Dev Psychol 23:140–145.
Crick NR, Dodge KA. 1994. A review and reformulation
of social information-processing mechanisms in
children’s social adjustment. Psychol Bull 115:74–101.
528 Menesini et al.
Di Maria F, Piazza A. 1998. Oltre la violenza. Una
ricerca/intervento sul bullismo, Parte terza: la ricerca
empirica. I dati concernenti gli insegnanti. Psicologia
e Scuola 18:17–26.
Dodge KA. 1991. The structure and function of reactive
and proactive aggression. In: Pepler DJ, Rubin KH,
editors. The development and treatment of child-
hood aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. p 201–218.
Dodge KA, Feldman E. 1990. Issues in social cognition
and sociometric status. In: Asher SR, Coie JD,
editors. Peer rejection in childhood. Cambridge:
Cambridge Univ. Press. p 119–155.
Dodge KA, Pettit GS, McClaskey CL, Brown MM.
1986. Social competence in children. Monographs of
the Society for Research in Child Development. 51:
Serial n 213
Dodge KA, Lochman JE, Harnish JD, Bates JE, Pettit
GS. 1997 . Reactive and proactive aggression in
school children and psychiatrically impaired chroni-
cally assaultive youth. J Abnorm Psychol 106:37–51.
Dunn J, Hughes C. 2001. ‘‘I got some swords and
You’re dead!’’ Violent Fantasy, Antisocial Behavior,
Friendship, and Moral Sensibility in Young Chil-
dren. Child Dev 2:491–505.
Eisenberg N. 2000 . Emotion, regulation and moral
development. Ann Rev Psychol 51:665–697.
Eisenberg N, Fabes RA. 1991. Prosocial behaviour and
empathy: a multi method, developmental perspec-
tive. Rev Pers Soc Psychol 12:34–61.
Eisenberg N, Fabes RA. 1995. The relation of young
children’s vicarious emotional responding to social
competence, regulation, and emotionality. Cognition
and emotion 9:203–229.
Eisenberg N, Fabes RA. 1998 . Prosocial development.
In: Damon W, Eisenberg N, editors. Handbook of
Child Psychology, vol.3. New York: J. Wiley.
p 701–778.
Fabes RA, Eisenberg N, Eisenbud L. 1993 . Behavioral
and physiological correlates of children’s reactions to
others’ distress. Dev Psychol 29:655–663.
Fergusson N, Stegge H. 1995. Emotional states and
traits in children: the case of guilt and shame. In:
Tangney JP, Fischer KW, editors. Self- Conscious
Emotions: The psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embar-
rassment and Pride. New York: Guilford Press.
p 174–197.
Hastings PD, Zahn-Waxler C. 1998 . Psychophysiologi-
cal and socialization predictors of empathy and
externalizing problems in middle childhood. Paper
presented at the Annual Conference of the American
Psychology Association, San Francisco, 1998.
Hoffman ML. 1998. Varieties of empathy-based guilt.
In: Bybee J, editor. Guilt and children. San Diego:
Academic Press. p 91–113.
Hoffman ML. 2000. Empathy and Moral Development.
New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kohlberg L. 1984. Essays on moral development: The
psychology of moral development. San Francisco:
Harper & Row.
Lewis HB. 1971. Shame and Guilt in neurosis. New
York: International University Press.
Lewis M. 1992. Shame: the exposed self. New York:
Free Press.
Menesini E, Eslea M, Smith PK, Genta ML, Giannetti
E, Fonzi A, Costabile A. 1997. Cross-National
comparison of children’s attitudes towards bully/
victim problems in school. Aggr Behav 23:245–257.
Menesini E, Fonzi A, Vannucci M. 1999 . Il disimpegno
morale: la legittimazione del comportamento pre-
potente. In: Fonzi A, editor. Il gioco crudele. Studi e
ricerche sui correlati psicologici del bullismo. Fire-
nze: Giunti. p 39–53.
Menesini E, Melan E, Pignatti B. 2000. Interactional
styles of bullies and victims observed in a competitive
and cooperative setting. J Genet Psychol 161 3:
Menesini E, Modiano 2002. A Multi-faceted Reality: A
Report from Italy. In: Smith PK, editor. Violence in
schools: the response in Europe. Routledge Falmer
Editor. p 153–168.
Olthof T, Schouten A, Kuiper H, Stegge H, Jennekens-
Schinkel A. 2000. Shame and Guilt in children:
Differential situational antecedents and experiential
correlates. Br J Dev Psychol 18:51–64.
Olweus D. 1993. Bullying at school. What we know and
what we can do. Oxford: Blackwell.
Ortega R, editor. 1997. La convivencia escolar, que es y
como abordarla. Conserjeria de Educacion y ciencia
de la Junta de Andalucia. Seville: Novograf.
Perry DG, Kusel SJ, Perry LC. 1988. Victims of peer
aggression, Dev Psychol 6:807–814.
Piaget J. 1932. The moral judgement of the child.
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Rigby K, Slee PT. 1991. Bullying among Australian
children: reported behavior and attitudes towards
victims. J Soc Psychol 131:615–627.
Rigby K. 1996. Bullying in schools: And what to do
about it. Melbourne: ACER.
Saarni C, Mumme DL, Campos JJ. 1998. Emotional
Development: Action, Communication and Under-
standing. In: Damon W, Eisenberg N, editors.
Handbook of Child Psychology, vol. 3. New York:
J. Wiley. p 237–309.
Saarni C. 1999. The development of emotional compe-
tence. New York: The Guildford Press.
Salmivalli C, Lagerspetz K, Bjo
¨rkqvist K, Osterman K,
Kaukiainen A. 1996. Bullying as a Group Process:
Participant Roles and Their Relations to Social
Status Within the Group. Aggress Behav 22:1–15.
Smith PK. 1991. Hostile aggression as social skills deficit
or evolutionary strategy? Behav Brain Sci 14:
Moral Emotions and Bullying 529
Smith PK, Bowers L, Binney V, Cowie H. 1993.
Relationships of children involved in bully/victim
problems at school. In: Duck S, editor. Under-
standing relationship processes. Vol. 2: Learning
about relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage
Publications. p 184–212.
Smith PK, Sharp S, editors. 1994. School Bullying:
Insights and Perspectives. London: Routledge.
Smith PK, Morita J, Junger-Tas J, Olweus D, Catalano
R, Slee P. 1999. The nature of school bullying. A
cross national perspective. London: Routledge.
Smorti A, Ciucci E. 2000. Narratives strategies in bullies
and victims. Aggress Behav 261:33–48.
Sutton J, Smith PK. 1999. Bullying as a Group Process:
An Adaptation of the Participant Role Approach.
Aggress Behav 25:97–111.
Sutton J, Smith PK, Swettenham J. 1999a. Bullying: and
‘‘Theory of mind’’: A critique of the ‘Social skills
deficit’ view of anti-social behaviour. Soc Dev 8:
Sutton J, Smith PK, Swettenham J. 1999b. Social
cognition and bullying: Social inadequacy or skilled
manipulation? B J Dev Psychol 17:435–450.
Tangney JP, Wagner P, Gramzow R. 1992. Proneness to
shame, proneness to guilt, and psychopathology.
J Abnorm Psychol 101:469–78.
Tangney JP. 1995. Recent empirical advances in the
study of shame and guilt. Am Behav Sci 38:
Tangney JP. 1998. How does guilt differ from shame? In:
Bybee J, editor. Guilt and children. San Diego:
Academic Press. p 1–17.
Tremblay RE, Phil RO, Vitaro F, Dobkin PL. 1994.
Predicting early onset of male antisocial behavior
from preschool behavior. Arch Gen Psychiatry
Zahn-Waxler C, Radke-Yarrow M, Wagner E, Chap-
man M. 1992. Development of concern for others.
Dev Psychol 28:126–136.
Zahn-Waxler C, Cole PM, Welsh JD, Fox NA. 1995.
Psychophysiological correlates of empathy and
prosocial behaviors in preschool children with
problem behaviors. Dev Psychopathol 7:27–48.
530 Menesini et al.
... Research has shown that MD is strictly linked to aggressive behavior, including traditional bullying in schools (e.g., Bandura et al., 2001;Gini et al., 2014;Kowalski et al., 2014), andcyberbullying (e.g., Lo Cricchio et al., 2021). In particular, literature underlined that bullying perpetrators are more likely to score higher in MD than those not involved in bullying (Menesini et al., 2003;Caravita et al., 2012;Thornberg and Jungert, 2013). Moreover, bystanders with higher levels of MD are less likely to defend the victims when witnessing episodes of bullying (Gini, 2006;Obermann, 2011;Caravita et al., 2012;Thornberg and Jungert, 2014). ...
... Explanations for reprehensible conduct may reside in specific cognitive processes, which have been referred to as MD mechanisms, and which explain why common people are able to engage in unethical conduct, without experiencing apparent guilt (Bandura, 1991). The use of MD has been documented in several contexts, and it has been highlighted that it plays an important role in antisocial and aggressive behavior (Bandura et al., , 2001Menesini et al., 2003;Osofsky et al., 2005;Paciello et al., 2008;Fida et al., 2015). Despite its well-known importance for explaining aggressive conduct, such as bullying and cyberbullying (Gini et al., 2014;Lo Cricchio et al., 2021), the understanding of how MD operates within intercultural contexts remains at an early phase. ...
Full-text available
Research has underlined that moral disengagement processes, by which people switch off their moral values and act aggressively without experiencing guilt, are highly connected with contextual factors. However, research on situational variations in moral disengagement is limited, especially considering the associations with characteristics such as the ethnic origin of potential victims. The general aim of the present study was to develop a brief, specific measure of ethnic moral disengagement able to catch individual justification used in the case of ethnic bullying and cyberbullying, and test its validity and reliability. An eight items scale was developed and administered in study 1, in a sample of 961students attending several Italian high schools (53.5% female; Mage 15 years). Considering the results of the CFA, we modified one of the items and the scale was administered again, in a second sample of 1,229 students (49.9% female; Mage 15.62 years) in study 2. A one-factor model of ethnic moral disengagement fit the data well and internal consistency showed to be good. As an additional step, we found that the model was invariant across Italian adolescents and youths with a different ethnic or culture of origin (having at least one parent born abroad) strengthened our confidence regarding the factorial integrity of the scale. Last, the scale showed to be positively associated with ethnic bullying and cyberbullying. Generally, findings suggested that the Ethnic Moral Disengagement scale can be a useful tool for those interested in measuring moral disengagement and evaluating how it impacts bullying and cyberbullying of minority groups.
... Therefore, identifying the unique contribution of envy (beyond anger) to moral disengagement is crucial to articulate the unique role of envy in moral disengagement. In the same vein, there is research showing associations between a range of emotions and moral disengagement, such as guilt (Johnson & Connelly, 2016;Moore et al., 2012), shame (Page et al., 2016), and pride (Menesini et al., 2003). Lastly, even though there is no research linking disgust and moral disengagement, there is evidence pointing at the role of disgust in dehumanization, a mechanism of moral disengagement (Dalsklev & Kunst, 2015). ...
Full-text available
Envy has been positively associated with both moral disengagement and organizational unethical decision-making. Nevertheless, extant research suffers from a number of limitations that constrain our ability to define the unique links between different forms of envy and moral disengagement. In two studies (N = 419), using a dual conception of envy, we demonstrate that malicious envy has a consistently stronger and unique relationship to moral disengagement than does benign envy. Additionally, from further analyses we suggest that is the harming motivation of malicious envy, and the collateral damage potentially produced by self-improvement motivation of benign envy, the aspects that would relate both types of envy to moral disengagement. Lastly, we show that moral disengagement consistently accounts for the relationship between malicious envy and unethical decision-making. In sum, these findings open different ways to better understand the link between the envious experience, moral disengagement, and unethical decision-making, taking advantage of envy’s dual conceptualization.
... On the other hand, they may elect to remain uninvolved to avoid potential victimization. Moreover, those with more experience perpetrating sexual harassment and gender discrimination may support or encourage the aggressors when they observe others' victimization, as previous literature has found that those with experience as aggressors are more likely to justify others' negative behaviors (Menesini et al., 2003;Perren et al., 2012). The role of prior experiences of gender-based harassment may be especially important to consider in order to provide insight into potential interventions to promote bystander intervention online. ...
Full-text available
As online access grows widespread, individuals may be increasingly subjected to cyberbullying, including cyber-harassment targeting one's gender. Although bystander intervention can help stop bullying, little is known about factors that promote bystander intervention in instances of gender-based cyberbullying. This study examines expected bystander responses to gender-based cyberbullying with emerging adults from the United States (N = 373, M age = 18.89, SD = .94). Hierarchical regressions demonstrated that women, those with prior experience as victims of gender-based discrimination and those encountering male transgressors were more likely to expect that they would support a victim of gender-based cyberbullying. Additionally , the better participants were at perceiving and understanding emotions, the less they expected that they would support the cyberbully and the more they expected they would support the victim of gender-based cyberbullying.
... Moreover, previous studies suggest that bystanders who experience pleasant emotions in response to bullying tend to side with the bully [106], while experiencing unpleasant emotions in response to bullying increases support for the victim [107]. Meanwhile, moral emotions (such as guilt and shame) are important regulators of helping behaviours [108], as they are closely correlated with a sense of responsibility towards others [109,110]. We expect moral emotions and unpleasant emotions to be related to acceptance of active coping strategies against cyberbullying, and pleasant emotions to be related to acceptance of passive strategies. ...
Full-text available
Cyberbullying behaviours begin at primary school, so the actions taken by pre-teachers will play a key role in achieving the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. More specifically, active coping strategies are essential in reducing victimisation. The aim of this study was to identify the coping strategies considered effective by pre-service teachers and to analyse the perceived appropriateness of active and passive strategies in relation to personal variables. The participants were 1122 students on the Bachelor’s Degree in Education at the University of Castile-La Mancha in Spain. The study measured the perceived appropriateness of five active coping strategies and four passive coping strategies, moral disengagement, experiences of bullying and cyberbullying, emotions in response to bullying and gender stereotypes. The results show that more than 25% of pre-service teachers are not prepared to manage cyberbullying effectively. Prior experiences of victimisation, personal masculinity in men and moral emotions in women are related to active strategies, while moral disengagement, and pleasant emotions in women, are related to passive strategies. Universities must implement initiatives to ensure that pre-service teachers receive training on effective coping strategies and reflect on the personal factors influencing their decisions.
... An increasing body of research showed that individuals who are highly involved in school bullying perpetration experience weak moral emotions (Menesini et al., 2003) and moral reasoning (von Grundherr et al., 2017), fail to distinguish moral and conventional rules (Caravita et al., 2012;De Angelis et al., 2016) and, overall, tend to neutralize the moral self-condemnation linked to bullying behaviors by using moral disengagement mechanisms . ...
According to the Pathologic Adaptation Model of community violence exposure, repeated experiences of violence within the community lead youth to accept violence as a normative and legitimate strategy to cope with conflict, thus increasing their involvement in aggressive behaviors. This hypothesis has been under-investigated with reference to bullying at school. Using a person-centered analytical approach (latent profile analysis), this study examines the mediating role of moral disengagement as a type of normalizing cognition about violence, in the relationship between profiles of community violence exposure and perpetration of bullying. Eight hundred and two adolescents (11-18 years; 43.4% girls) from two different urban and societal contexts in Italy (Milan vs. Naples) participated in the study. Four profiles of exposure to community violence emerged. Context site and age influenced belonging to the four profiles. Being moderately exposed to violence, both as a victim and as a witness, was significantly associated with higher levels of moral disengagement and bullying perpetration. Being exposed as a witness and as a victim, and being exposed only as a witness were associated with bullying perpetration via the increase of moral disengagement. These findings support the Pathologic Adaptation Model and indicate that adolescents who experience higher levels of community violence, as a witness or both as a witness and a victim, are more likely to develop morally disengaged beliefs about violence, which in turn would increase the likelihood to perpetrate bullying. Results are also discussed in the context of social diversity.
... Eisenberg et al. (2016) suggested that there are several motives for performing prosocial behaviors, including egoistic concerns (e.g., the expectation of reciprocity), practical concerns (e.g., preventing an unwanted situation or helping), and other-oriented concerns (e.g., sympathy). Defenders also show high levels of moral sensitivity to the distress of victims, which may lead to higher sympathetic emotions (Menesini et al., 2003). Therefore, for defending the victim, the most important dimensions of the moral functioning may be more related to emotions than cognitive mechanisms. ...
Full-text available
The present study investigated the extent to which moral disengagement and the tendency to consider moral rules as socio-conventional rules are distinct dimensions of morality, and their association with three different forms of participation in bullying (perpetrating bullying, defending the victim and passive bystander behavior). These two types of moral cognitions have been theorized in different models of morality and are usually studied independently, even if research on moral shifts (the interpretation of a moral rule transgression as a socio-conventional rule transgression) suggests some possible overlaps. A group of 276 Italian students from primary and middle school (aged 8–15) completed self-reports assessing moral disengagement, socio-conventional perception of moral rules, and participation in bullying as bully, defender of the victim and passive bystander. Results from structural equation modeling analysis confirmed that moral disengagement and socio-conventional comprehension of aggressions are separate and moderately connected morality dimensions. Controlling for age, gender and SES, only moral disengagement was positively associated with perpetrating bullying. These results point to moral disengagement as the critical component of moral cognitions to be addressed in interventions.
... One could thus ask; do those who bully have the moral knowledge and awareness of the harmful consequences of bullying, but override moral standards and reasoning when engaging in bullying? For instance, Gini (2006) found no significant difference between those who bullied and those not involved in bullying regarding the ability to understand the intentions and goals guiding behavior, whereas Menesini et al. (2003) found that those who bullied were capable of identifying harmful intent when acts were directed towards themselves but at the same time tended to judge their own behavior as having less harmful intentions. This may suggest that students who engage in bullying access moral knowledge selectively, when it is beneficial to themselves (Ettekal et al., 2015). ...
The purpose of the current study was to extensively investigate not only bystander roles but also individual bystanders’ moral emotional responses in the context of cyberbullying based on the perpetrator's perceived popularity and the message type. Data from 566 adolescents in grade 7 attending six middle schools in South Korea were used to identify their bystander behavior and moral emotions in response to vignettes about cyber scenarios. Using latent profile analysis, the current study identified five types of bystanders: limited bystanders, pro-bullies, outsiders, defenders, and inconsistent bystanders. Moreover, multinomial logistic regressions were performed to determine the predictive power of the moral emotions of each bystander type. The findings indicated the importance of understanding bystanders’ roles for designing effective intervention strategies regarding moral emotions, leading to adolescents’ improved moral sensitivity.
Bullying was investigated as a group process, a social phenomenon taking place in a school setting among 573 Finnish sixth-grade children (286 girls, 287 boys) aged 12–13 years. Different Participant Roles taken by individual children in the bullying process were examined and related to a) self-estimated behavior in bullying situations, b) social acceptance and social rejection, and c) belongingness to one of the five sociometric status groups (popular, rejected, neglected, controversial, and average). The Participant Roles assigned to the subject were Victim, Bully, Reinforcer of the bully, Assistant of the bully, Defender of the victim, and Outsider. There were significant sex differences in the distribution of Participant Roles. Boys were more frequently in the roles of Bully, Reinforcer and Assistant, while the most frequent roles of the girls were those of Defender and Outsider. The subjects were moderately well aware of their Participant Roles, although they underestimated their participation in active bullying behavior and emphasized that they acted as Defenders and Outsiders. The sociometric status of the children was found to be connected to their Participant Roles. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Developed a peer nomination scale to assess the degree to which children are subjected to direct physical and verbal abuse by peers. Ss were 165 boys and girls in the third through sixth grades. About 10% of the children could be classified as extremely victimized. Age and sex differences in victimization were nonsignificant. Children's victimization scores were uncorrelated with their aggression scores (also assessed by peer nominations), were negatively correlated with peer acceptance, and were positively correlated with peer rejection. When children's victimization and aggression scores were treated as dual predictors of peer rejection, over half of the variance in peer rejection could be accounted for. Implications of the fact that a small group of children consistently serve as targets of peer aggression are discussed.
Empathy is a feeling more appropriate for someone else's condition than one's own; one's feeling may match the other's but not necessarily. There are at least five modes of arousal of empathic distress. Three are primitive, automatic, and most important, involuntary: First, reflexive newborn's crying at the sound of another's cry. Second mimicry, which has two steps: the observer spontaneously imitates the victim's facial, vocal, and postural expression of feeling; the resulting changes in the observer's facial and postural musculature then trigger afferent feedback which produces feelings that match the feelings of the victim. Third classical conditioning and direct association of cues in the victim's situation that remind observers of similar experiences in their own past and evoke feelings in them that fit the victim's situation. Further two empathy-arousing models involve higher-order cognitive processes: first, mediated association and second role taking. A comprehensive prosocial, empathy-based moral theory encompasses at least five types of moral encounters: First, innocent bystander: one witnesses someone in pain, danger, or distress. Second, transgressor: one has harmed someone, or is about to act in a way that may harm someone. Third, virtual transgressor: one is innocent but feels oneself a transgressor. Fourth, multiple-claimant: an extended bystander model in which one witnesses two or more victims or potential victims but cannot help them all and must make a choice. Fifth, caring versus justice: one must choose between acting in accord with a caring principle or a justice principle when the two are in conflict.
Bullying in schools has been found to be widespread. The popular stereotype of a bully, supported by theories based on the social skills deficit model, is of a powerful but 'oafish' person with little understanding of others. In this article, we trace the origin of this view, and present an alternative view: that some bullies, at least, will need good social cognition and theory of mind skills in order to manipulate and organise others, inflicting suffering in subtle and damaging ways while avoiding detection themselves. Such skills, although likely to be utilised in all bullying, may be particularly useful for ringleader bullies and in the indirect forms of bullying which are more common between girls. Suggestions for further research in this area are made, and implications for anti-bullying work briefly discussed.