The influence of moral disengagement on responses to climate change

Zoe Leviston*, Iain Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    Notions of moral responsibility and ethical obligation pervade social and political discourse about climate change in Australia. However, comparatively little is known about the importance of moral considerations in people’s mitigative and adaptive behaviours. Here, we draw on Bandura’s concept of moral disengagement to explore this issue. We conducted two nationally representative online surveys, 12 months apart. Participants were 5,030 Australian residents, of whom 1,355 participated in both surveys. We found that levels of moral engagement mediate between (a) opinions about the causes of climate change and pro-environmental behaviour, (b) individual response efficacy and pro-environmental behaviour, and (c) responsibility for causing climate change and pro-environmental behaviour. Moreover, people placed more responsibility on groups and organisations, and less on individuals, for both causing and responding to climate change, regardless of their opinion on the causes of climate change. Longitudinal analyses showed that those who became more sceptical about anthropogenic climate change also became less morally engaged. Relatedly, those who became less morally engaged reported feeling less guilty about climate change, though there was evidence suggesting that this relationship is bidirectional. We suggest that moral disengagement is a key mechanism through which reductions in both effortful behaviour and guilt are achieved.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)144-155
    Number of pages12
    JournalAsian Journal of Social Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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