Two far-reaching programs at the forefront of higher education — Ethics Unwrapped and the Ethics and Leadership Flag — are giving students at The University of Texas at Austin, and people beyond the Forty Acres, the ability to live ethical lives and set the example for others to follow.
[Read how ethics education helps students navigate dilemmas.]
Professor Robert Prentice, the faculty director of Ethics Unwrapped, put together this quiz to test just how ethical you actually are:
Answers are available at the end of this post.
- True or False: Most adults have solid, well-founded ethical beliefs that can be changed only by new evidence or reasoned arguments.
- True or False: I am more ethical than my peers.
- John is the captain of a submarine. An explosion has caused the sub to lose most of its oxygen supply and has injured a crewman who is bleeding badly and is going to die from his wound no matter what happens. The remaining oxygen is not sufficient for the entire crew to make it to the surface. The only way to save the other crew members is for John to shoot dead the injured crewman now. Then there will be just enough oxygen for the rest of the crew to survive. Is it morally acceptable for John to shoot the injured crewman?
- True or False: Sally is a tourist in New York City. Late at night she is confronted by a vicious mugger on a side street. Sally starts screaming for help. Sally is better off if there are 20 bystanders close by rather than only one.
- True or False: If you were in a job interview and an interviewer started asking you sexually inappropriate questions, you would stand up and walk out of the interview.
- True or False: You are driving and come upon a terrible collision between two cars that just happened. Both cars are on fire and will soon be consumed with flames, killing the occupants. You realize with horror that your brother is unconscious in one of the cars, while two strangers are unconscious in the other. You have time to save the occupants of only one of the cars. The moral thing for you to do is to save the two strangers.
Don’t panic if you didn’t correctly answer all six questions. Prentice says we all tend to overestimate our ability to act ethically, and the good news is that studying ethics education like watching nearly 50 Ethics Unwrapped videos that anyone, anywhere can use for free will help you find your ethical bearings.
“The big picture is that everybody…tends to think of themselves as good people with the confidence they’ll make ethical decisions. But we aren’t realistic about the pressures we face,” Prentice says. “The best way for us to prepare students is to explain how hard it will be to live up to their own standards.”
- False. Most people’s ethical judgments are easily manipulated by simply changing contextual factors. By telling them that their boss has a certain view, that their peers have a certain view, or even just by spraying the room in which they make the decision with “Fart Spray”(yes, there is such a product), psychologists can alter people’s ethical judgments. Because people generally do not realize how easily their ethical judgments are manipulated, they are prone to making poor ethical choices.
- Who knows? You may be more ethical than your peers. But 85% or so of Americans also believe that they are and that is simply not mathematically possible. This and the fact that 92% of Americans are satisfied with their moral character illustrate the point of Ethics Unwrapped’s video on The Overconfidence Bias that most of us tend to be overly confident in our own morality, which can lead us to make ethical decisions without being sufficiently reflective.
- There is no incontestably right answer here. But by giving subjects brain-teasers that tempted them to quickly choose obvious answers that turned out to be wrong, psychologists prompted them to be more thoughtful in answering this question. When they did, subjects tended to answer ‘yes’ at a meaningfully higher rate than did people who answered with their gut. When people answer ethical questions spontaneously, they tend to be more deontological (rule-based) in their responses (“Thou Shalt Not Kill”). With more reflection, they tend to take a more utilitarian (consequences-based) approach (taking one life to save many).
- False. Because of the “bystander effect” — the tendency of people to take their behavioral cues from those around them — Sally may be better off with only one person nearby because that person will know that unless he or she helps, Sally will be in big trouble. If there are many people around, they may all look to each other to see what to do and if no one takes the lead, they may all end up doing nothing. Ethics Unwrapped’s video on The Conformity Bias illustrates how this human tendency can cause bad ethical decision making.
- False. Probably anyway. In one study, when a group of young women were asked individually what they would do in this situation, virtually every one predicted that she would walk out of the interview or protest in some other fashion. But when other young women were actually put into what they thought was a real job interview, not a single one protested. They all wanted the job so much that the ethicality of the situation just faded away. The Ethics Unwrapped video on Framing illustrates that the kinds of ethical decisions you are likely to make has a lot to do with how you look at the issue. For example, if you see it as an ethical issue you will tend to make different (and more ethical) decisions than if you look at it as simply a business decision.
- Again, there is no incontestably correct answer here. Most people believe that the right thing to do is to save your brother, even though two people will die instead of one. Many psychologists believe that our tendency to favor in-group members (friends and family) in this way is evolutionarily based and helped our ancestors improve the chances that their genes would be passed down. There is quite a bit of evidence that our moral sense evolved to help us live together cooperatively in groups.
This story is part of our “Preparing Leaders” series, which explores how students are learning valuable leadership lessons.