Moral Cognition: Explaining the Gender Difference in Antisocial Behavior

Males' greater propensity for antisocial (i.e., externalizing) behavior has been well documented. Because males and females generally have evidenced negligible differences in moral judgment stage, we investigated whether the gender discrepancy in antisocial behavior might be attributable to gender differences in other moral cognitive variables, specifically, moral self-relevance and self-serving cognitive distortion. The sample included 88 male and 105 female college students aged 16 to 19 years. In multiple regression analyses, moral judgment and moral self-relevance correlated negatively, and self-serving cognitive distortion correlated positively with antisocial behavior. Path analysis revealed that mature moral judgment and higher moral self-relevance were associated with lower levels of self-serving cognitive distortion, which partially mediated the relationship between those variables and antisocial behavior. Relationships among the moral cognitive variables and antisocial behavior did not vary by gender. Although the genders did not differ in moral judgment stage, females evidenced greater moral self-relevance, less self-serving cognitive distortion, and less antisocial behavior. The implications of these findings for moral developmental theory and the treatment of antisocial behavior are discussed.