Moral Disengagement in Ethical Decision Making: A Study of Antecedents and Outcomes

James R. Detert, Linda Klebe Treviño, Vicki L. Sweitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

807 Scopus citations


This article advances understanding of the antecedents and outcomes of moral disengagement by testing hypotheses with 3 waves of survey data from 307 business and education undergraduate students. The authors theorize that 6 individual differences will either increase or decrease moral disengagement, defined as a set of cognitive mechanisms that deactivate moral self-regulatory processes and thereby help to explain why individuals often make unethical decisions without apparent guilt or self-censure (Bandura, 1986). Results support 4 individual difference hypotheses, specifically, that empathy and moral identity are negatively related to moral disengagement, while trait cynicism and chance locus of control orientation are positively related to moral disengagement. Two additional locus of control orientations are not significantly related to moral disengagement. The authors also hypothesize and find that moral disengagement is positively related to unethical decision making. Finally, the authors hypothesize that moral disengagement plays a mediating role between the individual differences they studied and unethical decisions. Their results offer partial support for these mediating hypotheses. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for future research and for practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)374-391
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology


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