Antecedents of moral disengagement in sport
Current sport morality research has been pursued in an effort to understand what leads athletes to engage in unethical behaviors in sport (Weiss, Smith, & Stuntz, 2008). One emerging area of research targets moral disengagement, the suspension of moral standards in an effort to reduce the self-censure typically experienced when violating these standards (Bandura, 1991). To date this work has largely emphasized the outcomes of moral disengagement, such as its positive relationship with antisocial behavior (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996; Bandura, Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, & Regalia, 2001; Boardley & Kavussanu, 2007; 2008a, 2008b, 2009), leaving a gap in the understanding of the antecedents of moral disengagement. Accordingly, in an effort to extend previous work on moral disengagement, the primary purpose of this study was to empirically examine proposed antecedents of moral disengagement in sport. Four individual difference factors (i.e., empathy, moral awareness, ego goal orientation, personal sport importance) and one situational factor (i.e., perceived teammate cheating and aggressive behavior) were examined as independent and combined predictors of moral disengagement in sport. Finally, the relationship of athletes' moral disengagement with self-reported cheating and aggressive behavior was examined, and the potential mediating role of moral disengagement in the relationship of the antecedents with cheating and aggressive behaviors in sport was tested. Male ( n = 213) and female (n = 194) high school basketball and soccer players completed psychometrically sound measures of sport empathy, moral awareness, goal orientations, perceived teammate behavior, personal sport importance, moral disengagement, and cheating and aggressive behavior to examine the study purposes. Results from multiple regression analyses indicated that sport empathy and moral awareness negatively and independently predict, while ego goal orientation and perceived teammate behavior positively and independently predict, the use of moral disengagement in sport. Moral disengagement in turn positively predicts athletes' self-reported engagement in cheating and aggressive behaviors. Additionally, sport empathy and ego orientation moderated the relationship of perceived teammate behavior with moral disengagement. Perceived teammate behavior was associated more strongly with moral disengagement when scores on ego orientation were greater, and less strongly with moral disengagement when scores on sport empathy were greater. Moral disengagement partially mediated the relationship of sport empathy, moral awareness, and perceived teammate behavior and fully mediated the relationship of ego goal orientation, with athletes' self-reported engagement in cheating and aggressive behaviors. Finally, while not expected, task goal orientation emerged as a positive predictor of moral disengagement. In addition, moral disengagement fully mediated the relationship of task orientation with athletes' self-reported cheating and aggressive behaviors. This study extends previous research on moral disengagement by empirically identifying individual difference (sport empathy, moral awareness, goal orientations) and social (perceived teammate behavior) factors that predict the use of moral disengagement, particularly within the sport context. These antecedents accounted for a meaningful amount of variance in moral disengagement, suggesting that sport empathy, moral awareness, goal orientations, and perceived teammate behavior are important contributors to athletes' moral disengagement. Moreover, moral disengagement accounted for a meaningful amount of variance in cheating and aggressive behavior, supporting Bandura's (1991, 2002) contention that moral disengagement links with the incidence of unethical behaviors. Along with the mediation findings, the present work suggests that developing strategies to enhance sport empathy, moral awareness, and task involvement has potential for diminishing the use of moral disengagement in sport and, in turn, cheating and aggressive behavior. Additionally, tactics that temper levels of ego goal orientation and perceived engagement in cheating and aggression by teammates may also diminish the use of moral disengagement in sport and, in turn, cheating and aggressive behavior.
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