Dr. David Kitz Krämer , pp. 59. MAM/Sektionen för Management, 2009.
The recent turbulences that led to a global financial crisis have partially been triggered by immoral and overly egoistic behaviour. In the wake of the disaster many have asked,
and keep asking, how a sustainable and socially fair economy can be build. Ethics is one of the cornerstones of human interaction in general and in economic interaction.
This thesis has been inspired by the question: How can unethical behaviour be avoided?
This Master Thesis work has dealt with the question of how ethics in general can be improved. In today’s business world Business Ethical Codes of Conduct (BECC), or
more commonly called honour codes, have reached some prominence. However, the question remains still unanswered as to if these measures are really effective, and if so, how efficient they are.
This thesis investigated the effect of a BECC by having individuals read it and measuring their ethical attitude by answering a questionnaire. The results were compared to a group not reading the BECC prior to answering the questionnaire. The aim was to investigate if a BECC has an acute effect that may be based on psychological priming. The results do not suggest that a BECC causes a strong shift in moral thinking in the short term, or even acutely.
Additionally, as a control, other groups of individuals were given a story to read that presented a moral dilemma. The test-subjects were asked how they would react in the
described situation. The respondents were divided into two groups for analysis, the ones who chose the ethical response and the ones who chose the unethical response. In contrast to the BECC-experiment described above, the unethically responding participants showed a strong decrease in their reported moral values, confirming the
validity and functionality of the ethical test itself.
In addition, the study arrived at some intriguing findings that it did not set out to discover. The reading of the dilemma itself reduced reported moral values. To the knowledge of the author, to date only one study has investigated and shown the same effect that is generally known to psychology as the mere-exposure effect.
A side-alley of investigation was the question whether previous findings on the correlation of age, socio-economic status, and gender (sex) could be confirmed. The
previous reports have been contradictory in their findings.
The current thesis found supporting evidence that age is positively correlated with moral thinking, i.e. growing age correlated with strengthened moral values, which means that individuals agree more with ethical concepts the older they become. In addition, while socio-economic status did not show any correlation with moral thinking, gender did correlate with ethical values in certain respects. It could be shown, that the above mentioned mere-exposure effect exists for the males but not the females in the test-groups.
In summary, changing ethical attitude is possible. However, controlling ethics, i.e. directional influence, is apparently a complicated business that needs more research.