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Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is a social psychologist who studies morality, emotion, and culture.
I would highly recommend his book: The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
Is professional ethics education effective?
There has been little rigorous study of the behavioral impact of ethics courses in business schools. Mayhew & Murphy (2009) examined effects of an ethics education course for accounting students. Their findings “suggest that ethics education does not necessarily result in internalized ethical values, but it can impact ethical behavior." (In other words: making norms clear, and then making people's behavior public, can make people follow good norms. That’s ethical systems design in action!) Also of relevance, Lau (2010) reviewed ethics education programs from 1980-2008, along with a non-experimental study looking at undergrad business ethics programs, and found evidence of improvement in moral reasoning.
Other studies that looked for behavioral effects and failed to find them include:
- Waples et al., 2009 reviewed evidence from 25 business ethics programs and concluded that, "Overall, results indicate that business ethics instructional programs have a minimal impact on increasing outcomes related to ethical perceptions, behavior, or awareness."
- Simha, Armstrong, & Albert (2012) found that business ethics education in conjunction with business ethics training had a positive impact on students’ attitudes towards academic dishonesty and cheating; however there was no significant impact of either business ethics education or training on actual cheating behaviors.
IDEAS TO APPLY (Based on research covered below)
- Don’t depend on generalization when it comes to ethics education.
Indeed, educational interventions rarely generalize; students who learn a skill in one context (such as a math class) often fail to make use of the skill when tested in a different context (such as on the playground). Students might ace an ethics class, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use their knowledge once they leave the classroom.
- Focus on training students’ “elephants.”
In the rider vs. the elephant paradigm the rider is conscious reasoning and the elephant is the great bulk of mental life that is unconscious, intuitive, and automatic. An ethics class directed solely to the rider is unlikely to change behavior. A class that alters the elephant -- or that changes external circumstances that then influences the elephant -- is more promising.
- Leverage individual and group identity.
A course that changes how a student thinks of herself, and of her classmates, has a greater chance of success than one that simply tries to educate the student and impart knowledge and skills.