Role of Moral Beliefs in Aggression- An Investigation across Two Cultures

Author: Dr. Naumana Amjad

Supervisor: Martin Skinner

Degree: PhD

Year: 2006

University: Institute of Applied Psychology, Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan


The overarching aim of this thesis was to contribute to the understanding of specific moral-cognitive processes and mechanisms and their association with aggressive behaviour across age groups and across two cultures.

A review of the literature identified the key questions for present research. There is extensive evidence that the normative acceptability of aggression is associated with aggressive behaviour. However the acceptability for retaliation in specific situations and discernment between justified and unjustified retaliation has not been thoroughly researched. Secondly the role of self-censure and self-reflection in the regulation of aggressive behaviour needs to be examined further. Finally hostility between groups and its association with beliefs has not been investigated in Muslim samples. Eight empirical studies addressed these specific questions.

Study one investigated the component structure of Normative Beliefs about aggression Scale using samples from Pakistan and the UK. Beliefs about equal retaliation, excessive retaliation and beliefs about general aggression were found to be distinct components, were endorsed differentially and had different level of association with aggressive behaviour across both countries. Study two established the discriminant validity of this distinction by comparing a group of violent adolescents with a matched group of non-violent adolescents on acceptability of these types of retaliation.

Study 3 examined the association of self-censure with aggressive behaviour and normative beliefs about aggression and retaliation. Self-censure was negatively associated with aggressive behaviour as well as with beliefs indicating that higher the endorsement of aggression, lower would be the expected self-censure as a result of aggression.

Study four using retrospective accounts of real aggressive episodes found that private self-consciousness predicted self-censure as well as thinking about one’s own aggressive actions. Both thinking and self-censure were negatively associated with frequency of aggressive acts. The beliefs about direct  and  indirect  aggression  among  Pakistani  adolescents  were tested in Study five and a reliable measure was developed and found to have convergent validity. Study six examined moral reasoning among children and explored at a preliminary level a possible intervention for changing beliefs about victimization in school. Study seven and eight extended investigation of beliefs to intergroup context (anti-Semitic beliefs) and found that extreme beliefs were related to hostile intentions. An educational intervention was carried out which showed that beliefs could be influenced through creating empathy and stressing intergroup similarity.

Findings of each study are discussed in relation to empirical and theoretical literature, as well as proposed assumptions. The implications of this research are thrashed out at the end in a general discussion, re-visiting theoretical and conceptual basis underpinning the overall research.

Keywords: Moral-cognitive processes, Self-censure, Retaliation, Aggressive behaviour, Self-reflection

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Corresponding Address: Department of Applied Psychology, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan. Email:, Phone: 92-42-9231245

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