Moral disengagement and verbal bullying in early adolescence: A three-year longitudinal study

Marlene Bjärehed, Robert Thornberg, Linda Wänström, Gianluca Gini

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19 Citations (Scopus)


This three-year longitudinal study examined both within- and between-person effects of moral disengagement on verbal bullying perpetration in early adolescence. Data came from the first four waves (T1-T4, Grades 4 to 7) of an ongoing longitudinal project examining social and moral correlates of bullying in Swedish schools. Participants included 2432 Swedish early adolescents (52% girls; Mage at T1 = 10.55 years). Students completed self-report measures of verbal bullying perpetration and moral disengagement. Results of a multilevel growth model showed that verbal bullying increased over time (regression coefficient for Grade was b = 0.04, SE = 0.01, p < .001). Additionally, the verbal bullying trajectories of participants with higher average levels of MD were higher (regression coefficient for MD¯ was b = 0.28, SE = 0.02, p < .001) and steeper (regression coefficient for the Grade ×MD¯ interaction was b = 0.02, SE = 0.01, p = .018), indicating that these students scored higher on verbal bullying in general and increased more in verbal bullying over time, compared to students with lower levels of average MD. Variations around one's own mean of MD over time was also significantly associated with concurrent changes in verbal bullying (regression coefficient for time-varying MD was b = 0.21, SE = 0.01, p < .001).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-73
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of School Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Pedagogy (50301)
  • Psychology (50101)


  • Early adolescence
  • Longitudinal
  • MLGM
  • Moral disengagement
  • Verbal bullying


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