An Integrated Model of Legal and Moral Reasoning and Rule-Violating Behavior: The Role of Legal Attitudes

Ellen S. Cohn, University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
Donald Bucolo, University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
Cesar J. Rebellon, University of New Hampshire
Karen T. Van Gundy, University of New Hampshire


Legal socialization theory predicts that attitudes mediate the relation between legal reasoning and rule-violating behavior [Cohn, E. S., & White, S. O. (1990). Legal Socialization: A Study of Norms and Rules. New York: Springer-Verlag]. Moral development theory predicts that moral reasoning predicts rule-violating behavior directly as well as indirectly [Blasi, A. (1980). Bridging moral cognition and moral action: A critical review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 1–45]. We present and test an integrated model of rule-violating behavior drawing on both theories in a longitudinal study of middle school and high school students. Students completed questionnaires three times during the course of 1 year at 6-month intervals. Legal and moral reasoning, legal attitudes, and rule-violating behavior were measured at times one, two, and three respectively. Structural equation models revealed that while moral and legal reasoning were directly and indirectly related to rule-violating behavior among high school students, legal reasoning bore no direct relation to rule-violating behavior among middle school students. The implications for an integrated model of reasoning and rule-violating behavior are discussed.