Moral disengagement mechanisms predict cyber aggression among emerging adults



The Internet has given rise to many new communication tools (e.g., social media, text messaging), which, while beneficial in many respects, have become a means for aggressing against others. As evidence of the adverse correlates of cyber aggression mounts, improved understanding of the mechanisms that facilitate electronic aggression is needed. Moral disengagement (i.e., cognitive processes through which individuals disengage from their moral values) has been shown to predict cyber aggression when assessed as a unitary construct. The present study investigated the eight moral disengagement mechanisms measured by the Moral Disengagement Measure (Detert et al., 2008) and their relationships to four types of cyber aggression perpetration assessed with the Cyberbullying Experiences Survey (i.e., malice, public humiliation, deception, and unwanted contact; Doane et al., 2013). Emerging adults (N = 404, 58.67% women) aged 18 to 29 (M = 25.16, SD = 2.76) recruited through’s MTurk website completed measures online, and data were analyzed via path analysis. Each type of cyber aggression perpetration was predicted by different moral disengagement mechanisms. Advantageous comparison and dehumanization were the strongest predictors, and dehumanization was the only mechanism to predict all forms of cyber aggression. These findings provide support for the role of these mechanisms in cyber aggression and suggest that examining moral disengagement mechanisms individually may help to improve our understanding of cyber aggression among emerging adults. Further clinical and research implications are discussed.

cyber aggression, moral disengagement, dehumanization, emerging adults, path analysis
Author biographies

Taylor R. Nocera

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Taylor R. Nocera is a Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System in the Trauma Recovery Program and National Center for PTSD. She earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from The University of Southern Mississippi and has research interests in cyber aggression, anger, moral disengagement, dark personality traits, and usage of mobile mental health applications.

Eric R. Dahlen

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Eric R. Dahlen is a Professor in the School of Psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi. He earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Colorado State University and is the author of numerous articles on aggression, clinically dysfunctional anger, dark personality traits, and college student mental health. This is the corresponding author for the article (

Alison Poor

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Alison Poor is a 4th year Counseling Psychology doctoral student at The University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include relational aggression, relational victimization, and anger in adult women.

Jacqueline Strowd

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Jacqueline Strowd is a Counseling Psychology doctoral student in the School of Psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests include aggression, victimization, dark personality traits, perfectionism, and hyper-competitiveness.

Amanda Dortch

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Amanda Dortch is a school-based clinician at Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources. She earned her master’s in Counseling Psychology from The University of Southern Mississippi. Her primary research interests include peer victimization, bullying, and skin tone discrimination.

Erica C. Van Overloop

The University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA

Erica C. Van Overloop is a 3rd year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at The University of Southern Mississippi. She earned her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Auburn University Montgomery. Her primary research interests include relational victimization and aggression, trauma, and college mental health.


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Additional information

First submission received:
March 9, 2021

Revision received:
October 20, 2021

Accepted for publication:
November 19, 2021

Editor in charge:
Kristian Daneback







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