Self Regulation through Moral Agency

People also regulate their actions through moral standards of conduct. Bandura (1999a) sees moral agency as having two aspects: (1) doing no harm to people and (2) proactively helping people. Our self-regulative mechanisms, however, do not affect other people until we act on them. We have no automatic internal controlling agent such as a conscience or superego that invariably directs our behavior toward morally consistent values. Bandura (2002a) insists that moral precepts predict moral behavior only when those precepts are converted to action. In other words, self-regulatory influences are not automatic but operate only if they are activated, a concept Bandura calls selective activation.

How can people with strong moral beliefs concerning the worth and dignity of all humankind behave in an inhumane maimer to other humans? Bandura s (1994) answer is that "people do not ordinarily engage in reprehensible conduct until they have justified to themselves the morality of then actions" (p. 72). By justifying the morality of then actions, they can separate or disengage themselves from the consequences of their behavior, a concept Bandura calls disengagement of internal control.

Disengagement techniques allow people, individually or working hi concert with others, to engage hi inhumane behaviors while retaining their moral standards (Bandura, 2002a). For example, politicians frequently convince then constituents of the morality of war. Thus, wars are fought against "evil" people, people who deserve to be defeated or even annihilated.

Selective activation and disengagement of internal control allow people with the same moral standards to behave quite differently, just as they permit the same person to behave differently hi different situations. Figure 16.2 illustrates the various mechanisms through which self-control is disengaged or selectively activated. First, people can redefine or reconstruct the nature of the behavior itself by such techniques as morally justifying it, making advantageous comparisons, or euphemisti-

Feist-Feist: Theories of Personality, Sixth Edition

V. Learning Theories

16. Bandura: Social Cognitive Theory

Moral justification Palliative comparison Euphemistic labeling

Minimizing, ignoring, or misconstruing the consequences

Dehumanization Attribution of blame

Reprehensible conduct

Detrimental effects


Displacement of responsibility Diffusion of responsibility

FIGURE 16.2 Mechanisms through which internal control is selectively activated or disengaged from reprehensible conduct at different points in the regulatory process.

cally labeling their actions. Second, they can minimize, ignore, or distort the detrimental consequences of their behavior Third, they can blame or dehumanize the victim. Fourth, they can displace or diffuse responsibility for then behavior by obscuring the relationship between their actions and the effects of those actions.

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