Ethics

What will the 7 billion people on the planet Earth do today? Some will work, toil at their tasks. Some will relax, vacationing with family and friends. Some will sleep the day away, others will exercise diligently, some will study, some will meditate, and some will study and talk with others about interesting ideas. Some of the activities—probably the vast majority—are relatively innocuous ones that yield the most routine of consequences. But many can be judged—evaluated as good or bad in some way. Some will donate their time to worthy causes. Some will help others by being sources of moral and spiritual support. Some will spend another day working to make their community a better place. And then, too, there are the others. The others who commit harmful, morally abhorrent actions: The bigot who insults someone in a despised outgroup, the philandering husband who cheats on his wife of 20 years, the accountant who looks the other way when the boss asks him to obscure the company’s losses, the thief, the rapist, the molester, and the murder. On any given day, how many of the 7 billion people will do things that fall into the category of good, and how many fall squarely into the realm of evil?

Social psychologists study morality and moral processes, such as egoism and altruism, responsibility and blame, values and moral choices, communalism and individuality, courage and cowardice, and genocide and moral inclusion, but as social psychological phenomena that must be explored through scientific research. We not only want to understand the nature of people and the causes of actions both good and bad, but also how people feel and think about such actions and their relationship to other types of psychological outcomes.


My interest in morality dates all the way back to my dissertation, which examined individual differences in moral philosophy. I have also conducted a number of studies personality and ethics, looking at values, traits, and situational factors as causes of both moral judgment and moral behavior. Some of that work is linked to this page, specifically:

The Ethics Position Theory. In my dissertation research I explored the striking variations that people display in the moral realm, and sought to clarify those differences by focusing on two consistent themes seen when discussions turn toward moral issues: universalism (or the degree to which moral principles that are exceptionless guide moral thought and action) and consequentialism (or the degree to which an action’s consequences should influence judgment).  That work is discussed in reference to the questionnaire that measures these orientations: The Ethics Position Questionnaire (or EPQ).  Note: If you are interested in using the Ethics Position Questionnaire in your research, please visit these page for background information and a copy of the items.

Personality and Productivity. In work conducted with Ernest O’Boyle, we have explored the literature on the relationship between the so-called Dark Triad–Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy–and other variables, such as productivity and personality.

The Greater Good.  I continue to be intrigued by individuals decision to contribute their personal resources, whether time, energy, or money, to a common, shared cause. For background on this topic, please visit the website For the Greater Good of All, a book I edited with Crystal Hoyt dealing with this topic.

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