Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1206–1218 | Cite as

Moral Disengagement and the Propensity to Endorse Physical Punishment Practices

Original Paper


In this study, a new measure of moral disengagement tailored to physical punishment was developed. Moral disengagement is the selective disengagement of moral standards so that in certain situations unacceptable behavior can be performed without anticipatory self-censure for engaging in such conduct. In order to comprehensively examine the social cognitive process of moral disengagement, this study also investigates whether individuals who endorse higher levels of moral disengagement intend to use more physical punishment, and anticipate feeling less self-censure for using physical punishment. Participants were 323 primarily White Australian college students (46% male). Factor analyses supported a one-factor solution for the physical punishment moral disengagement scale, and the scale was shown to possess good psychometric properties. In accordance with predictions from social cognitive theory, greater moral disengagement proneness was associated with increased intentions to use physical punishment. Further, greater moral disengagement proneness was associated with less anticipated self-censure for using physical punishment. The results from this study provide preliminary evidence demonstrating that selective disengagement from moral standards is associated with greater intentions to use physical punishment.


Moral disengagement Physical punishment Corporal punishment Discipline Social cognitive theory 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Emotional HealthMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia

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