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Doehne, Malte, Grundherr, Michael von and Schaefer, Mechthild (2018): Peer influence in bullying: The autonomy-enhancing effect of moral competence. In: Aggressive Behavior, Vol. 44, No. 6: pp. 591-600

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Research has found that moral competence is negatively associated with bullying behavior in schools, but the drivers of this association are not yet well understood. In this paper, we report on two studies which suggest that moral competence acts as a moderator of peer influence in the context of school bullying. Data were collected at two time points in three German higher secondary schools (grades 7-10, average age at measurement: 14.26 years). Using a cross-lagged panel design (CLPD), study 1 (N=251) found adolescents with low moral competence to be susceptible to peer influence, while no such effect was found for adolescents with high moral competence. Study 2, a cross-sectional analysis (N=748), found moral competence to be inversely related to the likelihood of an individual's conforming with the pro-bullying behavior of his or her peers. Neither study found corresponding effects for pro-social, defending behavior. Our findings further illuminate the associations between moral competence, peer influence, and school bullying. Some implications for bullying prevention are discussed.

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