Influence of Business Ethics Education on the Possible Behavior of Individuals

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WHILE BUSINESS ETHICS in general education is greatly dealt with the effects of teaching business ethics to a student’s moral reasoning and his/her ability to recognize moral issues and moral dilemmas and based on these how his behavior is in effect to given circumsatnces, Douglas May, Matthew Luth, Catherine Schwoerer, S White, R Walls, D. Mohr, G Wolcott, mentions in their respective papers the need for outcome-oriented research would be the need of the hour. Specifically, they are concerned with “factors that facilitate ethical decision- making” (2014: 68, emphasis in the original). They justifiably theorize the factors that facilitate ethical conduct in business and explains the reasons why they should be studied empirically, because these factors have the potential to promote positive ethical organizational cultures and positive organizational reputations. Their work identifies, describes, and applies a hypothesis to three such factors, or variables, which are the focus of their study: moral efficacy, moral meaningfulness, and moral courage (2014: 68). Ultimately, their analysis reveals that a behavior course in business ethics “influenced each of the positive psychology variables” with the most notable change occurring in the moral efficacy outcome (2014: 75). As a secondary effect, their study demonstrates the ongoing “potential value of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship (POS) literature to business ethics researchers”. I share the authors’ enthusiasm, and I applaud their innovative steps into a new field of research, but it is the “potential value” of their statement that gives me to pause and analytically question the dependability and usefulness of their results and conclusions in the absence of further research on this subject.

The Authors’ Purpose

Teaching ethics has most often followed a “traditional negative approach to ethics” which “generally focuses on prohibited behaviors, enforceable rules, and sanctions for misconduct” (2014: 68). However, a growing trend toward a “positive approach to ethics,” promoting “morally praiseworthy ideals and behaviors,” has created a need for exploring and examining effective methods of teaching and learning ethics “in order to enhance the ethical culture and reputation of corporations”

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The subject expert propose the joining of the body of literature concerning business ethics education, and the body of literature concerning POS, in order to better understand the influence ethics education may have on a person’s ability to successfully address ethical challenges in the workplace. They begin their study by defining each of the three variables. Moral efficacy consists of an individual’s belief in his ability “to deal positively with ethical issues . . . and to overcome obstacles to developing . . . solutions” in a workplace environment. Moral meaningfulness consists of the value an individual places on ethics in the individual’s work life. Moral courage consists of an individual’s willingness to “stand up for what is right even in the face of adverse personal outcomes” (2014: 68). The authors puts forward three hypotheses, which drive their study; the hypotheses are that moral efficacy, moral meaningfulness, and moral courage increase for individuals who take a business ethics treatment course (2014: 70–71).

The Authors’ Study and Outcomes

The authors use a “experimental pretest and posttest control group design” The pretest-posttest design group - ended an 8-week, required MBA course. The ethics treatment group was enrolled in a course dedicated to the topic of business ethics, while the control group was enrolled in a human resource management class. In addition to the measurements for moral efficacy, moral meaningfulness, and moral courage, three va*riables were also control- led for:

  • (1) An individual’s ability to assimilate educational materials;
  • (2) An individual’s impression management (the tendency to present a positive social image); and
  • (3) Whether participants had previously taken a stand-alone ethics course (2014: 72–73).

The authors provide evidence of the validity of the studies as three outcome measures what they were supposed to measure, and they also tested for selection effects and a one-way analysis of any variance. The breakdown of the study’s results supports all three of the authors’ hypotheses with the largest, positive change occurring in the moral efficacy outcome.


This study spearheads a new area of research based on a changing perception of, and pedagogical approach to, business ethics ushering in new areas of future research on similar subjects. Perhaps the most significant effect of their study is described in the opening sentence of their “Discussion” section of the research paper:

The results of this study demonstrate the potential value of positive psychology and POS literatures to business ethics researchers as a source of psychological constructs that ethics education may influence.

While the authors’ study appears valid and reliable on its face, I would still not look more upon this area by overestimating the implications of the study’s goals and its results unless further on the subject are done. Too many variables require further research, and are likely to have a significant and measurable impact on this topic, before the authors’ premises and conclusions can be said to be generally, and consistently, reliable. The authors identify seven areas for future research, and their discussion of their study’s strengths and limitations fairly address several of its shortcomings. However, while some of the limitations identified by the authors may be more significant than others, there is at least one in particular that should be considered a fundamental limitation according to my own knowledge and study of other literatures on this subject by Sims, R. and J. Brinkmann, , potentially compromising the entirety of the study’s reliability, is the underlying instructional medium and methods adopted to impart the courses for design group that constituted the experimental and control arms of their study. Another limitation has the potential to challenge the study’s reliability: the subjectivity of the definitions of moral efficacy, moral meaningfulness, and moral courage.

The first such limitation, regarding underlying instructional methodologies used in the classroom, is raised by the authors themselves, but because of its notable impact on influencing the “learning that students [can] achieve” (Bulger, et al. 2002), I do not think the parameters of the authors’ study properly take into account the influence of instructional methodologies as a variable for determining the effectiveness of teaching business ethics.

Their first suggestion for future research is to “explore the influence of specific instructional methods. The authors disclose that the instructional methods in their treatment group were “varied”. If students are given hands-on-style teaching and/or intervention methodologies to practice their skills, and to analyze, develop, and recommend solutions for ethical dilemmas (Penn 1990), it is very likely their moral efficacy will increase to a greater extent than if students merely learn about these competencies through a lecture-style methodology (Laurillard 2002). The authors rightly point out that “more research needs to be conducted to determine what [teaching] method may be most influential in producing such fundamental changes in students” Indeed I believe, future studies based on ethics courses largely taught by lecture may not reflect the same positive results as did the courses in the authors’ study. Another significant question worth asking is whether the subject matter of an ethics course is the primary factor that leads to increased moral efficacy, moral meaningfulness, and moral courage (Sims and Brinkmann, 2002). 2002), versus the teaching style by which ethics is taught. Perhaps an ethics curriculum might mean very little without the use of an interactive and “applied” teaching method in the classroom .The students would feel it is just another subject matter part of your curriculum .The authors’ second research suggestion is to “focus on instructional methods that enable individuals to tie the discussion of ethics and values more directly to [students’] own experiences or future chosen profession”) – begs the same question as the first:

Whether instructional methods that draw associations between ethics and specific industries or companies and the personal experiences of people in these companies are the major driving forces behind positive increases in moral activity and moral meaning in the workplace in Indian scenario it can be related to people associating good moral behavior with TATA’s or Bosch. I would propose further new studies should be performed which seek to identify specific connections between instructional methodologies and increase in moral activity in the workplace.

The second area that should be explored as part of future research – the definitional bias of each of the three variables – is harder to locate in the authors’ own assessment of their study or in their recommendations for future work. While the authors’ study relied on a set of “treatment” students, who took the same MBA course dedicated to the topic of business ethics, another ethics course might have taught these same students a different viewpoint of morality, subsequently altering their understanding and subjective interpretation of what constitutes moral efficacy, moral meaningfulness, and moral courage (Taft and White 2007). For example, when we were taught the business ethics courses in fourth trimester, our faculty typically began each course by individually building the course from the students’ own personal ethical principles in order to create a connection about how they should behave in terms of at workplace or organizational level. This approach can identify diverse, but legitimate, definitional biases related to subjects like moral meaningfulness and moral courage. When a study attempts to evaluate an individual’s subjective assessment of his or her own actions based upon specifically defined factors, it is necessary to make sure the definitions and meanings of those factors are as widely agreed-upon as possible; if a widespread definition is not possible, then the subjectivity of those factors must be taken into account. If not, results that appear to have meaning may have dormant, and significant, inaccuracies. For instance, a person’s understanding of the word “moral” depends on that person’s perception, understanding, and application of other words, such as “right,” “wrong,” “goodness,” “badness,” “proper,” “improper,” “religion,” “belief,” and “faith.” Likewise, a person’s understanding of the word “moral” may also depend on a collection of sociological and historical factors. This concern about definitional bias may point to a casual misconception of which to be wary: what constitutes a “well-taught ethics curriculum” is not a concept or curriculum which is well-defined, fixed and frequently existent throughout academic world.

Result-oriented research based on the efficacy of an ethics curriculum, such as the authors’, needs to be understood in wake of the horde of ways in which business ethics can be taught and may be learned in any given university setting.

In conclusion, the article focusing on the influence of business ethics on an individual moral and values has done a fine job of introducing research that attempts to examine the factors that facilitate a person’s ethical decision-making abilities. Their study lays the groundwork for the proposition that business ethics instructors are able to not only build students’ skills in moral acknowledgment and reasoning, but also increase individuals’ beliefs in their abilities to use these skills to deal with complex moral issues and to derive and recommend solutions. While there are important limitations to the authors’ study, overall, but I am encouraged by their results and by the promise of business ethics education producing notable, positive, ethical results in the workplace by individuals and organization as a whole.

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Influence of Business Ethics Education on the Possible Behavior of Individuals. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
“Influence of Business Ethics Education on the Possible Behavior of Individuals.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
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