Moral disengagement in sport...or different moral matrix?


Morality is often described as a moral matrix—a consensual hallucination—in which it is difficult to “step outside” and understand different moral matrices. A new synthesis in the study of moral psychology has converged on a set of psychological foundations on which cultures build moral matrices. Individuals from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies primarily rely on individualizing foundations (concerns for harm & fairness) while most other societies have a boarder moral matrix that also includes binding foundations (e.g., concerns for authority & in-group loyalty; See Haidt, 2007). Given that the study of “moral disengagement” in sport has mainly examined WEIRD societies (e.g., Canada, United States) the purpose of this study was to test if the moral disengagement in sport scale (short) actually measures, in part, an orientation towards binding foundations. Study one examined current and former athletes (n = 171) from western countries (e.g., Canada, United States). Bias corrected bootstrap analyses revealed that moral disengagement not only mediated the negative relationship between individualizing foundations and common moral dilemmas in sport (-.33, 95% CI = -.46 - -.22), but also for the positive association between binding foundations and moral dilemmas (.17, 95% CI = .06 - .26). Study two, which examined current and former athletes (n = 245) from eastern countries (e.g., India, Philippines), replicated this finding for both individualizing (-.37, 95% CI = -.52, -.23) and binding foundations (.12, 95% CI = .02- .25). As predicted, those in the eastern sample scored higher on both binding orientation (p < .001, d = .61), and “moral disengagement” (p < .001, d = .65). These results suggest that the MDSS-S may measure an orientation towards binding foundations, which many cultures view as moral, not immoral. An increased emphasis on descriptive (rather than prescriptive) research with morally diverse groups seems warranted.

Acknowledgments: The author is supported by a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Doctoral Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC 767-2012-1381) and by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the CIHR Training Grant in Population Intervention for Chronic Disease Prevention: A Pan-Canadian Program (Grant #: 53893). The author would also like to thank Chris Blanchard and Julie Hopper for helpful comments and criticisms.