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Speaker examines ethical decisions

| Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ann Tenbrunsel, director of the Institute for Ethical Business Worldwide, discussed the discrepancy between promises and actions in her talk titled “Ethical Blind Spots,” which took place in the Mendoza College of Business on Wednesday as part of Notre Dame’s Ethics Week.

Tenbrunsel said ethical knowledge does not always translate to actions.

“People that think a lot and know a lot about ethics are not necessarily immune to unethical behavior,” she said.

She asked the audience to rate themselves on a scale of zero to 100 of how ethical they consider themselves to be, with zero being not ethical, 50 being average and 100 being the most ethical.

“People rate themselves higher than they should,” she said. “Not only do we inflate how good we are relative to other people, we hyper inflate our own ethicality.”

Tenbrunsel said the three steps of ethical decision-making are prediction, action and reflection.

“Studies show a large discrepancy between prediction and action, and this is known as forecasting errors,” she said.

Tenbrunsel said people often make forecasting errors when they think about charitable giving. Most people predict that when the time comes, they will donate a dollar or so to a charity, but less than half of them actually end up doing so, she said.

This phenomenon has to do with the difference between desirability and feasibility, Tenbrunsel said. Visceral forces, such as hunger, tiredness and fear, even influence our ethical decisions.

“The more sleep-deprived you are, the more likely that you will behave unethically,” she said.

Another reason for the discrepancy between prediction and action is “ethical fading,” Tenbrunsel said.

“[Ethical fading is] a process by which the moral colors of an ethical decision fade into bleached hues that are void of moral implications,” she said.

Tenbrunsel said she aims to help people to recognize their ethical illusions and thus avoid ethical fading and correctly compartmentalize ethical questions.

“[Then] we can work to become the people that we want to be,” she said.

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