The role of traditional and online moral disengagement on cyberbullying: Do externalising problems make any difference?

Marinella Paciello*, Carlo Tramontano, Annalaura Nocentini, Roberta Fida, Ersilia Menesini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines the differential role of traditional and online moral disengagement (MD) in relation to cyberbullying. Traditional MD is operationalised as a process operating across contexts, whereas online MD as a contextualised process related to online settings. We hypothesised that they are separate, although correlated, and have different roles depending on externalising tendencies. The sample comprised 856 high school students (mean age = 14.7, S.D. = 1.7; 45.6% females). Regression analyses highlighted that: a) for low externalising adolescents, only online MD was significantly related to cyberbullying; b) for medium externalising adolescents, both online and traditional MD are significant, with the former more strongly associated with cyberbullying; c) for high externalising adolescents, traditional MD is key. Cluster analyses identified five configurations: 1) the Externalising Traditionally Disengaged; 2) the Externalising Not-Disengaged; 3) the Online Disengaged; 4) the All Good; and 5) the Unsuspected. The Online Disengaged has the highest engagement in cyberbullying. The Unsuspected (showing the same low externalising behaviour but significantly higher level of online MD than the All Good) engage in cyberbullying as much as Externalising Traditionally Disengaged and Not-Disengaged. These findings have implications for intervention programmes, underlining the relevance of considering the moral processeses within the online environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-198
Number of pages9
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Early online date25 Sept 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Cyberbulling
  • Externalising problems
  • ICT
  • Moral disengagement
  • Online


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