Concepts Unwrapped | Introduction to Behavioral Ethics

Concepts Unwrapped | Introduction to Behavioral Ethics


[Professor Robert Prentice] Most people understand
that ethics is important, but when they think of studying it, they conjure up visions of
Aristotle or John Stuart Mill because ethics has traditionally been taught in philosophy
departments. Or, they think of preachers giving sermons
to build up the character of their parishioners. These are important ways to think about ethics,
but studies show that philosophers aren’t any more ethical than the rest of us, even
though they are likely better at moral reasoning. And, it turns out, there’s no strong correlation
between traditional measures of character and ethical actions, which is why we constantly
read in the newspaper about good people doing bad things. [John] Something that I experienced coming
into college and something I did not experience in high school at all was the presence of
study drugs and of people buying those illegally off of other people. The feeling that I got was that, you know,
I want to maximize my performance and I deserve to maximize my performance, and so I’m going
to take these things even though I’m not prescribed them. I totally felt like if I wasn’t taking those
things then I wouldn’t get to… do my best in college. That’s just a really unfortunate thing for
you to feel as you come in as a freshman that if you’re not cheating you’re not trying. The latest approach to teaching business ethics,
which is highlighted in many of the short videos in this series, comes from the new
field called behavioral ethics, which studies how and why people make the ethical and unethical
decisions that they do. [Claire] I think a lot of times we’re
concerned with our own image and how we will be perceived by our peers and we want to be
popular, we want to be seen as the cool kid in school rather than sticking to our own
ethical standards. I think what keeps me from speaking up when
someone is cheating is selfishness. Because I want to save face and it doesn’t
affect me. [Kelly] No one wants to be “that” person. [Kelly] Even if you are the person who stands
up and corrects someone, if you don’t see it fixing anything, you get discouraged. Behavioral ethics focuses in large part upon
why well-intentioned people sometimes make bad decisions and do not live up to their
own ethical standards. Many psychological biases and decision-making
heuristics or short cuts cause people to make unethical decisions in violation of their
own standards. Sometimes these missteps are made consciously;
more often they are made subconsciously. Organizational pressures that exist inside
many firms and social pressures that are ubiquitous in society can also make it difficult for
people to act ethically. [James] I, you know, had this great image
in my head that UT was super friendly to people and didn’t ever feel the need to call anyone
out on their sexual orientation. As I turned around to leave they were like,
“whatever faggot.” A professor was nearby and heard them say
that and they got called to their dean or something like that. So it was kind of like justice! You say things and you don’t even realize
what an effect it can have on other people. The study of behavioral ethics largely focuses
upon these situational factors which, the evidence indicates, can overwhelm a person’s
character. For example, consider the conformity bias,
which is the tendency people have to take their cues for proper behavior, including
ethical behavior, from their peers rather than exercising their own independent ethical
judgement. [Dana] Last semester I was in a UGS class
and we had a UGS discussion section. We had been taking notes and someone was typing
notes on their computer. And then we were supposed to have a little
quiz. They had pulled up the articles that we were
supposed to have read on the computer screen. And then her and the guy next to her were
looking on the screen while we were taking the quiz. And the TA didn’t notice, but I’m pretty
sure me and a lot of the other students noticed but we all didn’t say anything just because
it would’ve been… We just all didn’t feel the need to even
though we knew it was wrong. And then there’s role morality, which describes
the tendency many people have to use different moral standards as they play different “roles”
in society. For example, to take ethically questionable
actions in their role as loyal employees at work to advance their company’s profit goals
that they would never take at home to put money in their own pocket. And there’s the overconfidence bias, which
is the tendency of people to be more confident than is objectively justified regarding their
moral character and their ability to act ethically. [Krupa] I think that we all would all like to think
that we would make good decisions, and a lot of it I do think is innate. I think that if you are a good person, generally
you’re going to make good decisions. [Kirk] No, I think I’m old enough now that
I’m not naive to the fact that even though I think I’m a good person, there will be
times where I’m tempted to do something wrong or may not even realize that it’s
as big a deal that it really is. I may, in my own mind, minimize it to my own
advantage. These concepts, and others covered in Ethics
Unwrapped, certainly do not exhaust the ethical traps that our minds can lay for us, but they
make a good start at warning people who sincerely want to act ethically about psychological
biases and organizational pressures that may trip them up. This information should be very helpful to
people who want to improve the ethicality of their decision making and actions, and
to businesses and other organizations that wish to create ethical environments in which
their employees’ ethical decision making can flourish. [Ghal] The thing about ethics is, you know,
you can have a list of principles but you don’t always realize when you’re crossing
the line. I try to do my best not to and always make sure I’m aware of what’s going on. But, I mean, it happens. [Gaurav] Unless you talk about ethics, and
unless you discuss issues, you won’t discover your own personal boundaries. [Luke] The more people we get talking about
ethics, and promoting an ethical standpoint, the more people are going to have it, you
know, have that framework in their mind. It shouldn’t be something you think about
every once in a while when you’re in a certain situation; it really should be something that’s
in the forefront of your mind at all times.

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