Understanding Ethical Behavior (or the Lack of it) In and Out of the Classroom


Some people are of the opinion that nearly everyone is unethical. News stories about Enron and Bernie Madoff and movies like "Wall Street" can leave one questioning today's workplace. This paper explores the concepts of ethics and honesty with a survey and literature review. A survey was conducted of 710 freshmen students (78% male, 83.5% Caucasian) about academic honesty. Approximately 24% reported having cheated or acted dishonestly on a classroom or lab assignment, quiz or exam. Participants were asked "How ethical do you think you are?" on a Likert scale ranging 0-7 (0 = not at all ethical, 7 = extremely ethical ). Approximately 88% of participants reported a 5, 6, or 7 on the scale; 17.1% reported being "extremely ethical". A review of the literature shows that often individuals will "cheat a little" (i.e., over-reporting results on a quiz by approximately 20%) and yet still consider themselves honest. Dan Ariely (2012) found college students would steal cans of soda that did not belong to them but not take cash in the same situation, suggesting that individuals rationalize stealing as more acceptable if it is "only" a can of soda compared to taking actual money. Another study (Ariely, 2012) found golfers viewed picking up a golf ball by hand and moving it to a better position in a game a worse offense than giving the same ball a little kick of the foot to a better location. We conclude the paper with suggestions for today's engineering managers to change the workplace to encourage more ethical behaviors from others.

Meeting Name

35th International Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Management - Entrepreneurship Engineering (2014: Oct. 15-18, Virginia Beach, VA)


Engineering Management and Systems Engineering

Second Department

Psychological Science


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Old Dominion University
Sandia National Laboratories
St. Cloud State University

Keywords and Phrases

Education; Students; Surveys; Academic Honesty; Cheating; College Students; Engineering Ethics; Engineering Managers; Ethical Behavior; Literature Reviews; Wall Streets; Philosophical Aspects; Academic Honesty; Cheating; Engineering Ethics

Document Type

Article - Conference proceedings

Document Version


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