Moral Disengagement

In the development of a moral self, individuals adopt standards of right and wrong that serve as guides and deterrents for conduct. They do things that give them satisfaction and a sense of self-worth. They refrain from behaving in ways that violate their moral standards, because such conduct will bring self-condemnation. These positive and negative self-sanctions keep behavior in line with moral standards. However, in a pervasive moral paradox, people in all walks of life behave harmfully and still maintain positive self-regard and live in peace with themselves. They do so by disengaging moral self-sanctions from their harmful practices. These psychosocial mechanisms of moral disengagement operate at both the individual and social system levels.

Bandura, A. (1999). Moral disengagement in the perpetration of inhumanities. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 193-209.
Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of moral thought and action. In W. M. Kurtines & J. L. Gewirtz (Eds.), Handbook of moral behavior and development (Vol. 1, pp. 45-103). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Bandura, A. (2004). Selective exercise of moral agency. In T. A. Thorkildsen & H. J. Walberg (Eds.) Nurturing morality (pp. 37-57). Boston: Kluwer Academic.
Beers (2001). Moral justification - A noble cause "sanctifies" ugly deeds. Vancouver Sun.
White, J., Bandura, A., & Bero, L (2009). Moral disengagement in the corporate world. Accountability in Research, 16, 41-74.
Bandura, A. (2004). The role of selective moral disengagement in terrorism and counterterrorism. In F. M. Mogahaddam & A. J. Marsella (Eds). Understanding terrorism: Psychological roots, consequences and interventions (pp. 121-150). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.
Bandura, A. (2007). Impeding ecological sustainability through selective moral disengagement. The International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 2, 8-35.
Bandura, A. (1990). Mechanisms of moral disengagement.  In W. Reich (Ed.), Origins of terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind (pp. 161-191).  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bandura, A. (2008)Moral disengagement in state executions. In B. L. Cutler (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Psychology and Law (pp. 515-518). Thousand Oaks, CA;. Sage Publications.
Bandura, A. (2011) Self-deception: A paradox revisited. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 34, 16-17.
Bandura, A. (2017) Disengaging morality from robotic war. Psychologist, 30, 1-6.


Bandura, A., C. Barbaranelli, G. V. Caprara, & C. Pastorelli (1996). Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 364-374.
Bandura, A., Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Pastorelli, C., & Regalia, C. (2001). Sociocognitive self-regulatory mechanisms governing transgressive behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 125-135.
Bandura, A, Underwood, B., & Fromson, M. E. (1975). Disinhibition of aggression through diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims. Journal of Research in Personality, 9, 253-269.
McAlister, A. J., Bandura, A., & Owen, S. V. (2006). Mechanisms of moral disengagement in support of military force: The impact of Sept. 11. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 141-166.
Osofsky, M. J., Bandura, A., & Zimbardo, P. (2005). Role of moral disengagement in the execution process. Law and Human Behavior, 29, 371-393.
Bandura, A., Caprara, G. V., & Zsolnai, L. (2002). Corporate transgressions through moral disengagement. In L. Zsolnai (Ed.), Ethics in the economy: Handbook of business ethics (pp. 151-164). Oxford: Peter Lang Publishers.




Bandura, A. (2023). Social Cognitive Theory: An agentic perspective on human nature. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.