Ethical Decision Making: A Novel Perspective to a Long-Standing Issue for Undergraduate Education
AffiliationUniversity of Southern Indiana
TitleEthical Decision Making: A Novel Perspective to a Long-Standing Issue for Undergraduate Education
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Research Question and Context
This research extends understanding of self-regulatory processes involved in ethical decision-making for undergraduate students. Specifically, we examine the effects of an in-class manipulation consisting of ethical scenarios designed to stimulate a counterfactual (“what if”) mindset to impact negative emotion, ethical judgment, and intention to behave unethically. This research addresses both theoretical and practical imperatives in the scholarship of teaching and learning literature. The specific research question addressed is: Can educators use counterfactual thinking to more effectively advance undergraduate students’ ethical decision-making?
What are the themes in the scholarship of teaching and learning literature for teaching ethics? There is a clearly articulated call to address ethics in undergraduate education. However, exactly how to do this is less clear. While experiential learning is a favored approach (c.f., Loe & Ferell, 2001; Hunt & Laverie, 2004; Neil & Scribrowsky, 2005; Allan & Wood, 2009; Beggs, 2011), results have been mixed (c.f., Yoo & Donthu, 2002; Waples et al., 2009; Lau, 2010) resulting in a “how can we do better?” theme (c.f., Mele, 2005; Allan & Wood, 2009; Lund Dean et al., 2010; Beggs, 2011).
Two hundred and sixty-two undergraduate students enrolled in a range of business classes at a USI participated in this research. In keeping with counterfactual methodology (c.f., Kray et al., 2006), the study manipulated a situational element (“hands off” or “hands on” immediate supervisor) for one of two ethical scenarios in business contexts. Participants were provided a packet that consisted of, in order, one of two scenarios which included the manipulation, followed by related measures, followed by another scenario that did not include the manipulation, and a second set of measures that were different from those associated with the first scenario. Students responded to measurement items immediately after reading each scenario.
In terms of educational interventions, the manipulation of a mindset (through in-class scenarios) had significant effects on emotion, ethical judgment, and intention to behave unethically. Our reasoning was that participants who were exposed to the “hands on” manipulation in the first scenario would perceive stronger likelihoods of negative consequences which, in turn, would prime a prevention-focused mindset that would then be carried over to consideration of the second scenario. Further, negative emotion was found to be a strong predictor of ethical judgment and the perception of negative consequences (from the first scenario) was found to moderate the effect of negative affect on intention to behave unethically (for the second scenario). As noted in the counterfactual literature, this approach represents a more unobtrusive way to impact behavior (Liljenquist et al., 2004) which is consistent with observations that students may learn ethics better (with less reactivity) under less intrusive approaches (Beggs, 2011).
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