Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lowell A. Gaertner

Committee Members

Michael Olson, C. Daniel Batson, Paula J. Fite, Russell Zaretzki


Moral disengagement theory (Bandura, 1999) is a popular theory widely used to explain how people are able to commit atrocities without incurring self-condemnation. Assuming the internalization of moral standards in socialization, the theory suggests that a sufficient enticement may motivate people to disengage their moral standards so as to violate them without negative consequences for self-perception. Thereby moral disengagement theory is proposed to be distinct from cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1954) in that disengagement is assumed to happen as an antecedent to injurious behavior. This temporal assumption has been all but ignored by extant research and presents a gap in the literature that the current work seeks to address. Four studies tested a new paradigm for the experimental study of moral disengagement, showing that a fairness standard was clearly endorsed and recognized in the abstract (Study 1), but easily violated when behaving unfairly could benefit the self (Study 2). Furthermore, though I found evidence of pre-decisional adjustment of the fairness norm, participants violated the norm even when no pre-behavioral justification took place (Study 3). Lastly, time to think decreased, not increased, self-favoring behavior (Study 4). Together, these studies provide scant evidence of moral disengagement and suggest that processes other than moral disengagement may be at work in the context of relatively benign immoral behavior. Implication and future directions are discussed.

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