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Justice judgements, school failure, and adolescent deviant behaviour


Cristina Sanches, Rua Jardim do Tabaco, 34, 1149-041 Lisboa, Portugal (e-mail:


Background. The current paper is based on two different approaches. One is the relational model of authority (Tyler & Lind, 1992), which addresses the effects of justice perceptions on the legitimacy of authorities and behavioural compliance. The other is Emler and Reicher's theory (1995, 2005), which explains the involvement of adolescents in delinquency through their relationship with the institutional authorities of society.

Aims. To provide empirical evidence for the linkage of these perspectives, analysing the relationship between justice perceptions about teachers and the involvement of adolescents in deviant behaviour. Our hypotheses are that teachers’ justice is negatively related with deviant behaviour and that this relationship is mediated through the evaluation of institutional authorities, after controlling for school failure.

Sample. Three hundred and ninety adolescents aged between 14 and 17 years.

Methods. Participants completed the following scales: perceptions of justice about teachers, evaluation of institutional authorities, and deviant behaviour. Data were examined through correlation and bootstrap analyses.

Results. Justice judgments about teachers were negatively related with deviant behaviour, and this relationship was partially mediated by the evaluation of institutional authorities, even after controlling for school failure. However, procedural justice revealed a much stronger relationship with deviance, compared to distributive justice.

Conclusions. As predicted, these results suggest that when adolescents perceive school authorities as fair, other institutional authorities are likely to be perceived in a similar way and the more those authorities are positively evaluated, the less often adolescents engage in deviant conduct. Results are discussed according to the theories underlying our hypothesis. Directions for future research are suggested.