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The goal of this study was to understand whether quality of attachment relationships with parents and peers affects moral disengagement. Attachment styles, founded in our parent's responsiveness to us in early childhood (Bowlby, 1973) carry into adulthood and predict relational functioning throughout development (Simpson & Rholes, 2017). Early attachment generalizes to peer relationships in childhood and in adolescence (Dykes et al., 2008). Moral disengagement, justification of actions contrary to the character of the perpetrator, is a form of anxious and dysfunctional behavior (Bandura, 2016). It is used to preserve self-concept while violating core values (Bandura, 2016). There is evidence that moral disengagement is impacted by attachment style (Chugh et al, 2013), suggesting moral disengagement could be impacted by relational influences. Based on previous research/theory, we hypothesized that secure parent and peer attachment would be associated with decreased moral disengagement. Using extant survey data collected from 403 college students in 2017 (N = 403, 289 women, 114 men, 90% White, non-Hispanic/Latinx), we tested multivariate associations between parent attachment, peer attachment, and moral disengagement, controlling for gender, in a regression model. Results showed that after controlling for gender, peer attachment was a significant negative predictor of moral disengagement, while parent attachment was not. However, results of an exploratory interaction analysis suggested a more nuanced relation between variables. Specifically, at the lowest levels of parent attachment, greater peer attachment was unrelated to moral disengagement. But at the highest level of parent attachment, greater peer attachment was associated less moral disengagement. Limitations include a lack of age, race/ethnicity, and gender diversity within our sample, and future studies would benefit from a longitudinal design. Our results suggest that certain attachment relationships are related to moral disengagement, but that for emerging adults, parental attachment may not have the same level of influence as peer attachment.


Utah State University



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Associations Between Parental Attachment, Peer Attachment, and Moral Disengagement

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