This module is a resource for lecturers  




The Module seeks to help students understand some of the psychological mechanisms that can lead one towards unethical behaviour in certain circumstances. By discussing several well-known psychological experiments, the Module highlights certain basic human features which, while often working in our favour, can sometimes lead us to act unethically. The Module seeks to motivate students to take responsibility for their lives by avoiding common pitfalls that can impair their ability to act ethically. Experimental research suggests that self-control is essential to ethical behaviour, but that self-control is like a muscle that develops with exercise and becomes fatigued by overuse (Baumeister, 1999). This shows the extent to which keeping out of harm's way is perhaps as important as working to strengthen our capacity to control ourselves. For the purposes of this Module, taking responsibility for ethical behaviour in our lives means strengthening our self-control 'muscle' and learning how to avoid situations that may lead us to do things that we would later regret. The experiments discussed in the Module were chosen because of their pedagogical value, the issues they highlight, their relevance to the lives of students, and the diversity of useful materials (including videos) available for them. There are many other psychological factors that influence ethical behaviour, which are outside of the scope of this Module (some of them are explored in Module 7 (Strategies for Ethical Action) and Module 8 (Behavioural Ethics) of the E4J Integrity and Ethics University Module Series).

The Module is a resource for lecturers. It provides an outline for a three-hour class but can be used for shorter or longer sessions, or extended into a full-fledged course (see: Guidelines to develop a stand-alone course).


Learning outcomes

  • Understand mechanisms that lead us to act unethically and identify their impact on one's own life
  • Explain and demonstrate how these mechanisms can play both positive and negative roles in our lives
  • Understand the relationship between taking responsibility and being ethical, and how this applies to one's own life
  • Gain insights that could facilitate working towards ethical improvement
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