Moral emotions and bullying: A cross-national comparison of differences between bullies, victims and outsiders



This study aims to analyse the role of moral emotions and reasoning in relation to children's behaviour in a bullying situation. On the basis of a peer nomination questionnaire [Salmivalli et al., 1996; Sutton and Smith, 1999], children from three different cities (Seville, Florence, and Cosenza) were assigned to one of three different status groups: bullies, victims, or outsiders. Subsequently they were interviewed about their feelings in relation to the task of putting themselves in the role of the bully in a bullying scenario. Specifically, emotions such as guilt and shame, expressed in a sense of moral responsibility, and indifference and pride, expressed in an attitude of moral disengagement, were investigated. Results showed significant differences between bullies, victims, and outsiders, with regard to moral disengagement, at both the affective and cognitive levels. Across the three cities, bullies, as compared to victims and outsiders, showed a higher level of disengagement emotions and motives when they were asked to put themselves in the role of bully. At a more detailed level, analyses of specific mechanisms of moral disengagement revealed that bullies possessed a main profile of egocentric reasoning. Besides the differences between bullies and victims, cross-cultural differences were also present. Compared to children from Seville, children from the south of Italy (Cosenza) attributed higher disengagement to the bullies. Findings are discussed in relation to specific cultural characteristics of this area. Aggr. Behav. 29:515–530, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.