Withstanding moral disengagement: Attachment security as an ethical intervention

Dolly Chugh, Mary C. Kern, Zhu Zhu, Sujin Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


We propose an ethical intervention leading to improved ethical decision-making. Moral disengagement has long been related to unethical decision-making. We test an ethical intervention in which this relationship is broken. Our ethical intervention consisted of priming individuals to be securely-attached, in which they recalled a past instance of relational support and acceptance. We predicted and found an interaction between attachment state and moral disengagement, in which individuals primed with attachment security were able to withstand moral disengagement. In Study 1, we demonstrate that the securely attached behave more ethically than the anxiously attached in an achievement context. In Study 2, we show that secure attachment overrides one's natural propensity to morally disengage. In Study 3, we find that secure attachment minimizes the impact of the propensity to morally disengage through the mechanism of threat construal. Within both student and working adult samples and using both judgment and behavioral dependent variables, we show that the priming of secure attachment is a relatively simple and effective intervention that managers, educators, and organizations can use to reduce unethical behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-93
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Attachment theory
  • Ethical intervention
  • Ethics
  • Moral disengagement
  • Morality


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