Applying social psychology to the teaching of ethics: Are we ‘norming’ unethical behaviour?
At 16th General Meeting of the European Association of Social Psychology, Sweden.
12 - 16 Jul 2011.
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Typical means of teaching business ethics involve cautionary takes of ethics scandals. However studies have found that descriptive social norms are one of the most powerful predictors of behaviour (Cialdini, 2003; Nolan et al. 2008). Hence, while the lecturer’s aim may be to use case studies of unethical behaviour to highlight ethical issues, the message that may linger is that this is the kind of thing that business people do. Studies indicate that when a descriptive norm ‘people do this’ is pitted against an injunctive norm ‘people shouldn’t do this’ the descriptive norm tends to win (e.g. (Oceja and Berenguer 2009), therefore business ethics education risks inadvertently ‘norming’ unethical behaviour. This paper presents the results of a study comparing the efficacy of teaching case studies of ethics scandals with using case studies of pro-social business behaviour in terms of students’ ethical intentions, in the context of an undergraduate module on Business Ethics.
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