The developmental relation between moral disengagement and aggregation with deviant peers in understanding violent adolescent behavior

Marinella Paciello, Roberta Fida, Carlo Tramontano

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


During adolescence, manifestations of aggressive and antisocial conduct may change dramatically (Brame, Nagin and Tremblay, 2001; Loeber and Hay, 1997). Although most adolescents act antisocial, a large part of them desist in adulthood and only a small percentage of individuals become chronically engaged in antisocial behavior (Moffit, 1993). Furthermore, a reduced but relevant group of individuals escalate in the severity of their aggression, transition to violence, and become engaged in serious forms of deviant behavior (Loeber and Hay, 1997; Tremblay, 2000). Over the years, many theories and research attested that the presence of several risky factors increase the probability that early aggressive conduct may become chronic or lead to violent outcomes. In particular, social cognitive theory has underlined the importance of studying the reciprocal relations between individual systems and social context to explain behavior and different developmental pathways. The present chapter focuses on two specific dimensions related to aggression that could operate in concert, amplifying and favoring onset, persistence, and aggravation of early conduct problems: moral disengagement and aggregation with deviant peers. Several findings have attested to the role of moral disengagement and aggregation with deviant peers in mediating the relation between early risk factors and later antisocial outcomes (Dishion and Nelson, 2007; Paciello, Fida, Tramontano, Lupenetti and Caprara, 2008). Overall, cross sectional and longitudinal studies have been alternatively focused only on one of these two well-known risk factors, leaving the interaction between them less explored. According to the social cognitive approach, we intend to underline how, at an individual level, moral disengagement mechanisms may legitimate a resort to behavior that may hurt other people (Bandura 1999; Bandura, Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli and Regalia, 2001), and how at inter-personal levels, aggregation with deviant peers increases the risk to engage in and maintain antisocial conduct by deviant friendship processes (Dishion and Nelson, 2007; Patterson, Dishion and Yoerger, 2000). Moreover, moral disengagement and aggregation with deviant peers could reinforce reciprocally during adolescent transition. In fact, on one hand, deviant peers may increase the recourse to moral disengagement mechanisms by social processes such as modeling and highly approving deviant conduct. On the other hand, moral disengagement may provide the cognitive framework within which deviant peer conduct appears appropriate and acquires legitimacy. We underline the need of further research and longitudinal studies focused on the study of dynamic relations between these social and cognitive factors to understand how to improve the efficacy of preventive interventions aimed at contrasting chronicization of antisocial conduct during adolescence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on the Psychology of Violence
EditorsR.H Cunningham, W.F Berry
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9781619423107
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Psychology(all)


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