At an ethics conference in Virginia this year, Cara Biasucci and I met some of the people involved in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibit, State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda, which focuses on propaganda in Germany before and during WWII. Anyone who visits this exhibit, currently on display at the Bullock Texas State […]
Ethics Unwrapped Blog
To be Olympic-caliber swimmers, no matter how great their natural talent, young men and women must hit the pool early in the morning day after day, week after week, and month after month for years, swimming miles and miles and miles in the process. The character that it takes to make these sacrifices and to […]
The darkest days in college athletics since the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal brought down the sainted Joe Paterno and permanently sullied Penn State University’s reputation are playing out in Waco at the nation’s largest Baptist university. The Baylor sexual assault scandal raises the question: How can values become so skewed when leadership is […]
There has been a lot of news about cheating lately. It turns out that as long ago as 2006, a top technology executive (not a rogue underling) at Volkswagen made a Power point presentation detailing how to cheat on diesel emissions tests. Perhaps the company felt it needed to cheat to keep up with the […]
In a recent op-ed piece, I decried the state of ethics in today’s business community. The Volkswagen emissions fraud, the Peanut Corporation of American contamination cover-up, and Turing Pharmaceuticals’ 5,000% price increase for a particular drug all happened virtually simultaneously and threw me into a bit of a funk. Every day on Wall Street, it […]
As a business professor, I’m always looking for teachable moments, in which a very relevant, very vivid event can make an impression upon my students and point them in the right direction. But today I say: Enough already. No more teachable moments, please. Volkswagen, my students already know that it’s wrong to put software in […]
The University of Texas at Austin announced the creation of a Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation this year. Part of the Center’s mission, as currently envisioned, is to teach high school athletics coaches how to deal with various behavioral and other off-field matters involving their student athletes. Helping coaches “develop their students as people,” […]
The headlines from the SAE house at the University of Oklahoma and from the Department of Justice’s report on policing in Ferguson, MO., remind us that open racism continues to plague America and we must never stop fighting it. Just watching the movie “Selma” is not enough. It is heartening, of course, to see whites […]
At this writing I do not know whether the New England Patriots are guilty or innocent of the charge that they cheated in the AFC Championship game by playing with improperly deflated footballs. Soon, I hope, the truth will come out. The Pats may be completely innocent. What I do know is that there is […]
As Senator Ted Cruz recognized this week, “Every civilized nation agrees that torture is wrong.” I take it as a given that many of the actions spelled out in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s majority report constitute torture by any reasonable definition. Americans certainly would have defined them as such had they been done to Americans […]
Many of our Ethics Unwrapped videos present ideas produced by the new research field of behavioral ethics, which studies why people make the ethical (and unethical) decisions that they do. Much of the research comes from behavioral psychology and the “heuristics and biases” research stream created by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his late […]
In a recent Business Week column, Deborrah Himsel of the Thunderbird School noted, accurately, that business schools are trying harder than ever to teach their students lessons in ethics. She was equally on target in pointing out that there is a lot of room left for improvement. She cited several recent FCPA violations by Wal-Mart, […]
The firestorm over domestic abuse ignited by the staggered public release of two videos of Ray Rice and his then-girlfriend and now wife Janay Palmer illustrates one important finding of the behavioral ethics research that underlies many of our Ethics Unwrapped educational videos: many moral judgments are emotion-driven. It seems to most people that their […]
Psychological research provides guidance as to how leaders can create a workplace culture that encourages ethical behavior by employees.
The moral example set by leaders has a major impact upon the behavior of their subordinates, both good and bad, ethical and unethical. Despite their career success, leaders may be particularly vulnerable to ethical lapses.
Moral action involves taking the necessary steps to transform the intent to do the right thing into reality. This includes moral ownership, moral efficacy, and moral courage.
Moral intent is the desire to act ethically when facing a decision and overcome the rationalization to not be ethical “this time.”
Moral decision making is the ability to produce a reasonable and defensible answer to an ethical question.
Moral awareness is the ability to detect and appreciate the ethical aspects of a decision that one must make.
There is considerable evidence that how a question is framed can greatly affect how people answer it. Framing effects can cause well-intentioned people to make unethical decisions, as you can see by watching our Concepts Unwrapped video Framing, or our Cases Unwrapped video Jack & Framing. A commonly cited example of how framing can affect […]
Our Concepts Unwrapped video on Incentive Gaming, with content and narration provided by Professor Lamar Pierce of Washington University-St. Louis’s Olin School of Business, explains how many people will game incentive systems if given the opportunity. School teachers will teach to the test if they are rewarded based on how many of their students pass […]
There is no single correct way to teach business ethics. A common approach combines philosophy and character development. Teachers impart philosophical concepts for resolving difficult ethical issues and encourage students to develop and hone strength of character to give them the means to actually implement the solutions that develop. Any regular reader of this blog […]
Happy Ethical Holidays! In his recent book “Drunk Tank Pink,” marketing professor Adam Alter demonstrates how color affects many peoples’ decisions and actions in ways they do not realize or understand. A famous study shows, for example, that men arrested for public intoxication tend to be much less combative if confined in rooms painted pink […]
Money is not the root of all evil, but it changes us in ways that are not always good. So, we should be careful about money if we wish to lead ethical lives. A number of recent studies have primed one group of subjects to think about money (by having them solve word puzzles that […]
On a day (October 15, 2013) when the New York Times is carrying articles on former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s guilty pleas to attacks on women, on an indictment of a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old girl on felony charges in connection with the bullying-caused suicide of another 12-year-old girl, and on possible accounting irregularities […]
The business section of the New York Times Sunday edition is often a depressing read, as it was on July 28, 2013 when page BU1 carried a story about Steve Cohen’s SAC Capital Advisors and its apparently endemic culture of insider trading. In light of the many convictions and guilty pleas of SAC employees, the government’s allegation […]
Behavioral ethics investigates why people make the ethical (and unethical) decisions that they do in order to gain insights into how people can improve their ethical decision-making and behavior.
We hate losses about twice as much as we enjoy gains, meaning we are more likely to act unethically to avoid a loss than to secure a gain. This phenomenon is known as loss aversion.
Obedience to authority describes our tendency to please authority figures. We may place too much emphasis on that goal and, consciously or subconsciously, subordinate the goal of acting ethically.
Fundamental attribution error describes how, when judging others’ actions, we tend to give too much causal weight to their character and not enough to the circumstances in which they acted.
Tangible and abstract describes how we react more to vivid, immediate inputs than to ones removed in time and space, meaning we can pay insufficient attention to the adverse consequences our actions have on others.
Abramoff’s version of moral equilibrium, which describes our tendency to keep a running scoreboard in our heads that compares our self-image as ethical people to our actual behavior.
Abramoff’s version of role morality, which is our tendency to use different moral standards as we play different “roles” in society.
Abramoff’s version of the self-serving bias, which causes us to see things in ways that support our best interests and our pre-existing beliefs.
Abramoff’s version of overconfidence bias, which is our tendency to be more confident about our moral character and our ability to act ethically than is objectively justified.
Abramoff’s version of rationalizations, which are the excuses we make for not living up to our own, or society’s, ethical standards.
Abramoff’s version of framing, which describes how our judgments, including our ethical judgments, are affected just by how a situation is posed or viewed.
Featuring former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, this 25-minute documentary explores the biases and pressures he faced, and the consequences of his unethical decisions.
Bounded ethicality explains how predictable organizational pressures and psychological processes cause us to engage in ethically questionable behavior that is inconsistent with our own values and preferences.
Conformity bias refers to our tendency to take cues for proper behavior in most contexts from the actions of others rather than exercise our own independent judgment.
Ethical fading occurs when we are so focused on other aspects of a decision that its ethical dimensions fade from view.
Framing describes how our responses to situations, including our ethical judgments, are impacted just by how those situations are posed or viewed.
Referred to as the slippery slope, incrementalism describes how we unconsciously lower our ethical standards over time through small changes in behavior.
When we do something good we get to thinking of ourselves as pretty good people, and can then give ourselves license to fail to live up to our own ethical standards. This phenomenon is known as moral equilibrium.
The self-serving bias causes us to see things in ways that support our best interests and our pre-existing points of view.
Role morality is the tendency we have to use different moral standards for the different roles we play in society.
Many of our Ethics Unwrapped videos carry messages arising from the field of Behavioral Ethics. That same area of research has demonstrated the important role emotions play in constructing our moral beliefs and shaping our moral actions. We tend to feel guilt when we violate moral rules and shame when others find out we have […]
In teaching ethics, I focus upon helping people live up to their own standards rather than trying to talk them into accepting mine. None of our Ethics Unwrapped videos are aimed at foisting particular moral positions upon viewers. However, I am going on the record here as applauding the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to […]
It seems obvious that people should judge the ethicality of others’ actions in an objective and fair way. What is not so obvious is how difficult it often is to do that. One reason why it is difficult to make such objective judgments is our tendency to sort ourselves and others into groups and to […]
I was recently asked to give an ethics talk to a group of high school principals in training. For a time my mother was a public school teacher and a principal, and in my mind these people are to be greatly admired. Although a recent survey found teachers to be a pretty happy and satisfied […]
Financial journalist Bethany McLean has co-written two of the best books on recent financial scandals—The Smartest Guys in the Room about the Enron debacle and All the Devils Are Here about the subprime mess. In her blog, McLean recently addressed the question: “Does Jailing Executives Make Much Difference?” Judging from public reaction, jailing white collar […]
In my last blog entry, I discussed Melissa Korn’s recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Does an ‘A’ in Ethics Have Any Value?” I argued that business schools should teach ethics because, first, schools should teach what they think is important. Second, I argued that B-schools should train those students who do wish to act […]
The title of a recent Wall Street Journal article asked: “Does an ‘A” in Ethics Have Any Value?” The article discussed in modest detail several issues relevant to modern business ethics education: Should ethics be taught? Can ethics be taught? If the answer to those questions is ‘yes,’ should it be taught through a stand-alone […]
In a recent New York Times column, Floyd Norris noted in detail the obvious similarities between the downfall of Arthur Andersen during the Enron debacle and the recent troubles of Standard & Poor’s and other credit rating agencies (CRAs). Arthur Andersen was in an inherent conflict-of-interest situation. Like all auditors, it was paid by its […]
In teaching ethics in a business school, I typically focus upon decision making errors that well-intentioned people make. I do so because I believe that most of my students do have good intentions, as do most people in business. They want to have careers that they can be proud of. But even people of good […]
The inability of Congress and the President to work together to avoid the “fiscal cliff” until well after their failure to do so had caused real damage to the American economy highlights a deeply troubling problem in the U.S. democratic system. It is tempting to put all the blame on politicians for America’s bitter ideological […]
Most of my blogs have addressed individual ethical decision making with particular attention paid to behavioral ethics. This is natural, because Ethics Unwrapped’s initial videos have largely concerned these new concepts. However, the ethical decision making and actions of business entities are also very important. In most business ethics courses, the topic of corporate social […]
In my previous Ethics Unwrapped blog post, I noted that in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln,” President Lincoln is portrayed as have taken a utilitarian ends-justify-the-means approach to securing passage of the Thirteen Amendment in order to end slavery. Rather than follow a deontological, rule-based “thou shalt not lie” approach, Lincoln is willing to tolerate lying […]
There are two primary means of resolving ethical dilemmas. The deontological approach is rules-based–don’t lie, don’t steal, keep your promises, etc. Then there’s the teleological or utilitarian approach, which judges the morality of competing approaches by their consequences (“greatest good for the greatest number”). Both approaches are respectable. They often lead to the same conclusion […]
When Lance Armstrong realized that nearly every winning cyclist in major cycling was doping and that he would have to start doping to beat them, he started doping. When Mark McGuire realized that scores of top home run hitters in the major leagues were doping and that he would have to dope to stay among […]
At this writing, several military figures are very much in the news in ways that they regret, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, General John Allen, Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, and General William Ward. The first three are caught up in sex scandals; General Ward’s problem was being more than a little loose with taxpayer […]
Welcome to the first blog post on the Ethics Unwrapped website. We at the McCombs School of Business hope the videos that we have posted and will post in the future on this website will be a valuable (and FREE!!!!!!!!) resource for all people wishing to teach ethics or to learn about ethics on their […]