Offensive acts and helping behavior on the internet: An analysis of the relationships between moral disengagement, empathy and use of social media in a sample of Italian students (2019)

Work. 2019 Jun 26. doi: 10.3233/WOR-192935.

Parlangeli O1, Marchigiani E1, Bracci M1, Duguid AM1, Palmitesta P1, Marti P1.



The phenomenon of cyberbullying is on the rise among adolescents and in schools.


To evaluate the relationship between personality characteristics such as empathy, the tendency to implement cognitive mechanisms aimed at moral disengagement, and the use of social media.


Italian students from first to fifth year in high school classes (n = 264).


A questionnaire was used to gather information on the sociodemographic characteristics of the participants, their use of social media, their level of empathy (Basic Empathy Scale, BES), and mechanisms of moral disengagement (Moral Disengagement Scale MDS). Two questions were included to determine whether each participant had ever been a victim of or witness to cyberbullying.


Results suggest that offensive behaviors are related to mechanisms of moral disengagement and to interaction using forms of communication that allow anonymity. In addition, offensive behavior appears to be related to forms of Internet addiction, while prosocial behavior is linked with cognitive empathy.


In order to promote the establishment of prosocial behavior, it would seem necessary for the various players involved – schools, parents, social network developers – to make an effort to implement educational environments and virtual social networks based on a hypothesis of “design for reflection”, educating young people about the need to take the time to understand their feelings and relationships expressed via social media.

KEYWORDS: Cyberbullying; educational environments; ethics; internet addiction; reflective thinking

PMID: 31256099

DOI: 10.3233/WOR-192935