Social network structure and moral behaviour: The mediating effect of social identity


Relationships with significant others are important to the regulation of moral behaviour (e.g., Bandura, 1991). Using the social cognitive theory of moral thought and action as a foundation, the purpose of the current study was to test social identity strength as a mechanism through which teammate friendship networks at the individual and team levels relates to adaptive moral behavior in youth sport. Using social network analyses derived from reports of friendship strength among teammates, three metrics were computed: outdegree centrality (i.e., self-reported friendship with teammates), indegree centrality (i.e., nominations of friendship from others), and team density (i.e., overall friendship network strength). Athletes also completed self-report measures of social identity (SIQS; Bruner & Benson, 2018) and moral behaviour with teammates adapted for social situations (Kavussanu & Boardley, 2009). In total, six mediation models were tested using PROCESS (Hayes, 2013). Overall, the indirect effect of network structure on moral behaviour was significant, Sobel's test ps < .05, with the mediation accounting for 1.8 to 8.3% of the variance. The results highlighted a pattern whereby friendship network strength at the individual and team level were positively associated with sport team social identity, which in turn was (a) positively associated with athletes engaging in prosocial behaviours with teammates in social situations and (b) negatively associated with antisocial behaviours. These findings provide initial support for social identity to serve as an important pathway through which social ties among teammates may translate to moral behaviour outside of the immediate sport setting.

Acknowledgments: This research was funded by SSHRC IG 435-2016-0591 and the Canada Research Chairs Program