Many people flatter themselves that they've got firm, unchanging, and incorruptible moral compasses. Yet people can be easily swayed to adopt different moral positions by what role they think they are playing.
CORVALLIS, Ore. – An individual’s sense of right or wrong may change depending on their activities at the time – and they may not be aware of their own shifting moral integrity — according to a new study looking at why people make ethical or unethical decisions.
Focusing on dual-occupation professionals, the researchers found that engineers had one perspective on ethical issues, yet when those same individuals were in management roles, their moral compass shifted. Likewise, medic/soldiers in the U.S. Army had different views of civilian casualties depending on whether they most recently had been acting as soldiers or medics.
One wonders: As assorted occupations get automated out of existence and people shift into other occupations what is the net effect on moral perspectives? What ethical positions are people becoming more likely to take because of growth in some occupations? Which moral positions are becoming more of rarities as factories get automated or because functions previously done by people meeting face-to-face are now done on the phone or thru web pages?
Just hints to a person about what role they should use as their perspective caused them to take different ethical positions.
The researchers conducted three different studies with employees who had dual roles. In one case, 128 U.S. Army medics were asked to complete a series of problem-solving tests, which included subliminal cues that hinted they might be acting as either a medic or a soldier. No participant said the cues had any bearing on their behavior – but apparently they did. A much larger percentage of those in the medic category than in the soldier category were unwilling to put a price on human life.
In another test, a group of engineer-managers were asked to write about a time they either behaved as a typical manager, engineer, or both. Then they were asked whether U.S. firms should engage in “gifting” to gain a foothold in a new market. Despite the fact such a practice would violate federal laws, more than 50 percent of those who fell into the “manager” category said such a practice might be acceptable, compared to 13 percent of those in the engineer category.
Are more people thinking like managers? Do they compensate for their managerial ethics by becoming more altruistic in other areas? Or does managerial ethical thinking pervade their ethical calculations in other aspects of their lives?
Do you find your ethical positions more influenced by online communities where you play a role? Do you have more or less contact with humans than you did in your job 10 years ago? Do you sense your ethical perspective shifting? If so, in what directions?
One thing I see changing: As people work with and online chat with people who come from distant places people are growing their in groups. There is less local focus and more of a recognition of the need to form and maintain relationships with people in distant places and to incorporate perspectives and interests of distant groups into one's own moral calculations.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2012 June 09 09:42 PM Brain Ethics Law|