Posts tagged Ethics

Ethical BlindSpots and what to do about them

Ford Pinto. Foreground car is a restored examp...

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This is a review of Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel’s new book ‘Blind Spots: why we fail to do what’s right and what to do about it‘ published by Princeton. Before I start a disclaimer seems right. I receive review books from Princeton and have received this book free of cost for review. Considering that I love free stuff, esp if it is good psychology / neuroscience books, and considering the fact that Princeton editors are more likely to send review copies to those who give a positive review, there is a potential conflict of interest. Now that I have disclosed this conflict of interest, my review should be less biased and more responsible. Or so you thought!

Not so, if we go by Max and Ann’s research. They don’t specifically study the problem of bias in book reviews🙂 , but have gathered a pile of evidence in related conflicts of interest scenarios like a researcher publishing on efficacy of a drug where the sponsor of the study is a drug company ; or the auditors disclosing their other consulting businesses with the audited firm; all of which point to the fact that disclosing (or being mandated to disclose) our conflicts of interest , sort of gives us a license to be biased; and more so when authors are explicit about the conflict of interest, the readers are less likely to detect the bias.

The above is just one of the numerous examples of what the authors call bounded ethicality, in the same vein as bounded rationality. As per the bounded ethical view of human nature, we have limited resources esp the conscious deliberate decision making moral system resources as compared to the other fast and intuitive decision making system. The trouble lies with the fact that we are blind to how we will act in a future ethical dilemma (because we have hard time visualizing that our ‘want’ self will override our’ should’ self in the heat of the moment) or even if we will see the issue as an ethical issue at all (the case of ethical fading) .

When those in our organizations or government try to make policies that don’t take into account these psychological realities or blind spots, what effects they have on ethical issue is either sub-optimal or may even backfire. To take two well known examples: if an organization uses punishment as a tactics to enforce ethical behavior it may backfire. Consider the well known daycare center/ school study wherein parents were punished with a minimal fine if they didn’t pick their child at time after school. Thsi resulted in more parents being late to pick their child as instead of seeing it as a a moral or ethical issue involving the guilt system, they re-framed it and started seeing it an economical terms and using a reward (cost/benefit analysis) system.

Another famous example is that of opt-in or opt-out forms for organ donation and the corresponding different rates of organ donations in different countries. Here Max and Ann advocate Richard Thaler style Nudges to make best use of human blind spots to achieve ethical policy goals.

Max and ANN touch on a vriety of t=ethical issue aand blind spots at individual , organizational and society level and the discourse is peppered with actual real world examples like Enron – Arthur Anderson fiasco or Ford Pinto gas-chamber disaster. The examples, although taken from the US point of view, have global appeal and visibility and would be accessible to people form other nations too. This book is a must read for those who are in charge of organizational or society level implementation of ethical policies and programs, but is also helpful for us , the corporate or academic individual contributors/ mangers/administrators as to how we can apply the psychology of bounded ethicality to change ourselves and the world around us.

Despite having a strongly ethical/ moral agenda, the book strays clear of imposing a particular set of ethical values , either implicitly or explicitly, on others. The only appeal they make is to be true to oneself and if one wants to be ethical how to not be foooled into thinking that one is indeed acting ethically while indulging in unethical (by ones own standard) behavior. If you want to be an ethical person or organization and are sometimes left nonplussed by the unethical behavior that still ensues nonetheless, then this is the right book to help you understand and correctly ensure that ethical behavior happens when push comes to shove.

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The factor structure of virtues and perosnality: a continuing mess

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Continuing my theme of focusing on human character strengths and virtues and relating them to personality,  I have been doing more reading of the literature and want to discuss three papers today.

First up is Shyrack et al’s recent paper that again explores the factor structure of VIA-IS and finds support for a 3 or 4 factor solution. They discuss the various conflicting/mutually supporting factor analytical results and the resulting 4 or 5 underlying components or factors. the VIA-youth scale consistently gives 4 factors while the VIA-Is (adult form) gives 5 factors.

However, I have issues with the samples on which the factor analysis is done. the mean age in Shyrack’s current study was 50 years approx, but in most other analysis, the analysis is conducted on university students. The age and developmental stage of the sample is important because as per a developmental stage perspective many of the virtues will not become manifest/ apparent and bloom in full strength until a particular age has been reached. for eg, till age 50 people have perhaps mastered the first 6 stages (including intimacy as per Erikson’s model) but still have not finished to satisfaction the developmental tasks of generativity (seventh stage) and integrity (eights stage). Not faced with any developmental challenges to these situations, the people may have lacked incentives to develop the corresponding virtues; thus I would not be surprised if people identify / relate to only at most 6 virtues. I would suggest that new tests be developed for post middle age and senior citizens than the normal adult scales and their data analyzed to understand the true factor structure of virtue. This is akin to their being different measurement instruments for children, adolescents and adults for character strengths and perhaps rightly they reflect different underlying factors thus validating a developmental stages approach. If analyzed this way I am sure the data for aged people will support a eight factor structure. Much of the data obtained from college students, in my view would only support 4 or 5 factor virtue structure.

Shyrack et al find support for 3 or 4 factor model, but based on a cursory look at their extraction using goldberg technique (see figure) I can extrapolate that a support for eight factor structure , with social strengths splitting in justice and humanity, and temperance splitting in temperance proper (restraint) and emotional strength. I hope someone perofmrs extraction till 8 factors and tries to label them, especially with aged poulation.

That bring me to Munro et al paper that also used undergraduate students as samples and performed factor analysis to come up with 5 factors ; however they also centered their data and after centration (to reduce social desirability effects). Their scree plot supported a 9 factor structure. See the scree plot that clearly shows at least eight factor (eigenvalues > 1) . to me it is not understandable why they left this centered data and instead went on to derive a five factor structure from the non-centered raw data.

That brings me to the last paper. It is by Cawley et al and is based on lexical analysis of virtue adjectives and nouns and also uses a different Virtue scale the Virtue Scale instead of VIA-IS. This approach too yielded a found fold structure (Empathy, Order, Resourceful, Serenity), but I believe there is much scope for more exploration with their data. However the best take home from the very insightful article is that virtue and ethics are separate. Virtue is related to being; while ethics is related to doing. Ethics is more cognitively grounded , especially the one gauged by DIT or Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas and is not related much to virtue which is more grounded in character or personality. And they found support for this in their data. That I believe is an important difference an finding to keep in mind. Also I liked this paragraph that lists the attributes that give rise to moral domain competency. To me they follow naturally , as stage tasks and issues , in reverse order as one undergoes moral development:emotions (1st stage), will (second stage) , motivation (3rd stage), Ethics (4th stage) and Virtue (5th stage).

The independence of this measure of the virtues and the personality measures from the more cognitive DIT measure of moral development may also reflect the independence of the mental (cognitive±intellectual) and moral (emotional±motivational) domains in psychology and philosophy (Averill, 1980). Averill observes that the mental domain evolved from studies of epistemology, while the moral domain (including personality) evolved from studies of virtue ethics, motivation, will, and emotion. Thus, from Averill’s observation, one would expect a measure of virtue to be more strongly related to measures of personality than to measures of cognitive moral development. Additional empirical data on the relationships among virtue, personality, moral cognitive development, and epistemological style can be found in Cawley (1997).

Also, I liked this para, that distinguishes between temperance proper (2nd stage doing with restraint) and Activity (7th stage that is more agentic):

McCrae and John (1992) also acknowledge that there are two components of Conscientiousness (C): an inhibitive view and a proactive view. They note that:
A number of di?erent conceptions of C have been o?ered. Tellegen’s Constraint and Hogan’s Prudence reÂŻect an inhibitive view of C as a dimension that holds impulsive behavior in check. Digman and Takemoto-Chock’s Will to Achieve represents a proactive view of C as a dimension that organizes and directs behavior. The term Conscientiousness combines both aspects, because it can mean either governed by conscience or diligent and thorough. Empirically, both kinds of traits seem to covary. (p.197)
Perhaps the virtues factor Order represents the inhibitive, non-impulsive aspect of Conscientiousness as a virtue, and the virtues factor Resourcefulness represents the proactive, diligent aspect of Conscientiousness as a virtue (see also Johnson & Ostendorf, 1993).

Overall, I highly recommend reading the Cawley et al paper (available freely on the web) and encourage more research that utilizes multiple approaches to correlating Virtues with other constructs as outlined in this bit from munro et al:

In addition to developing their classification system, Peterson and Seligman (2004) have also suggested how their classification of character strengths and virtues is related to, but distinct from, already established theories of values. For example, Peterson and Seligman (2004) see their classification of character strengths and virtues as being related toMaslow’s (1973) idea of self-actualised individuals, the Five FactorModel (FFM) of personality (McCrae & John, 1992; Costa & McCrae, 1994), Cawley’s virtue factors (Cawley,Martin, & Johnson, 2000), Buss’ evolutionary ideas about what is attractive in a mate [i.e. what character traits are essential for survival and propagation, (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997; Shackelford, Schmitt, & Buss, 2005)], and Schwartz’s (1992) Universal Values.
Some research into establishing the validity of these claims has begun. Haslam, Bain, and Neal 2004) found that both Schwartz’s (1992) Universal Values and the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality were conceptually linked to the 24 character strengths. However, as these constructs were defined and subsequently measured by only one or two terms that were ranked and grouped together by participants on the basis of conceptual likeness, more thorough research is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions.

Heer is toast to more such research!

Shryack, J., Steger, M., Krueger, R., & Kallie, C. (2010). The structure of virtue: An empirical investigation of the dimensionality of the virtues in action inventory of strengths Personality and Individual Differences, 48 (6), 714-719 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.007
MACDONALD, C., BORE, M., & MUNRO, D. (2008). Values in action scale and the Big 5: An empirical indication of structure Journal of Research in Personality, 42 (4), 787-799 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2007.10.003
CAWLEY, M., MARTIN, J., & JOHNSON, J. (2000). A virtues approach to personality1 Personality and Individual Differences, 28 (5), 997-1013 DOI: 10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00207-X

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