Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 92, Issue 4, pp 565–584 | Cite as

A Step Forward: Ethics Education Matters!

  • Cubie L. L. LauEmail author


Ethics education matters! Contrary to some common beliefs that ethical behavior is inborn, this study suggests that education does matter. This paper examines ethics education and its relationship with students’ ethical awareness and moral reasoning. Attitudes Towards Business Ethics Questionnaire and 10 vignettes were deployed as the major measurement instruments. It is hypothesized that students with ethics education will have both a greater ethical awareness and ability to make more ethical decisions. Hypotheses were tested in two undergraduate business courses at a major research university where 707 students were sampled. Results suggest that ethics education improved students’ ethical awareness and moral reasoning. Interestingly, results also seem to show that students’ readiness moderated their learning outcomes.


business ethics ethical awareness ethics education JUSTICE framework moral reasoning readiness 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



Thanks to Riki Takeuchi and John Hulpke for data collection, and to Patrick Gibbons, Heli Wang, and Jorge Lengler for their helpful comments. Special thanks to the two anonymous reviewers who truly made a tremendous difference to this article.


  1. Albaum, G., and R. A. Peterson: 2006, ‘Ethical Attitudes of Future Business Leaders: Do They Vary by Gender and Religiosity?’, Business & Society 45(3), 300-321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arlow, P., and T. A. Ulrich: 1980, ‘Business Ethics, Social Responsibilities, and Business Students: An Empirical Comparison of Clark’s Study’, Akron Business and Economic Review 11(3), 17-23.Google Scholar
  3. Arlow, P. and T. A. Ulrich: 1985, `Business Ethics and Business School Graduates: A Longitudinal Study', Akron Business and Economic Review 16(1), 13–17Google Scholar
  4. Beltramini, R.F., R. A. Peterson and G. Kozmetsky: 1984, ‘Concerns of College Students Regarding Business Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 3(3), 195-200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bodkin, C.D., and T.H. Stevenson: 2007, ‘University Students’ Perceptions Regarding Ethical Marketing Practices: Affecting Change Through Instructional Techniques’, Journal of Business Ethics 72(4), 207-228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borkowski, S., and Y. Ugras: 1998, ‘Business Students and Ethics: A Meta-Analysis’, Journal of Business Ethics 17(11), 1117-1127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boyd, D.P.: 1982, ‘Improving Ethical Awareness through the Business and Society Course’, Business and Society 20(2), 27-31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Butterfield, K., L. K. Trevino and G. Weaver: 2000, ‘Moral Awareness in Business Organization: Influences of Issue-Related and Social Context Factors’, Human Relations 53(7), 981-1018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carlson, P.J., and F. Burke: 1998, ‘Lessons Learned from Ethics in the Classroom: Exploring Student Growth in Flexibility, Complexity, and Comprehension’, Journal of Business Ethics 17(11), 1179-87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Clark, J., and L. Dawson: 1996, ‘Personal Religiousness and Ethical Judgements: An Empirical Analysis’, Journal of Business Ethics 15(3), 359-372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cohen, E., and L. Cornwell: 1989, ‘A Question of Ethics: Developing Information System Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 8(6), 431-437.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donovan, A.: 2009, ‘Can Ethics Classes Cure Cheating?’, Harvard Business School online debate “how to fix business schools” April 14, 2009, Accessed May 2009
  13. Felton, E. and R. Sims: 2005, ‘Teaching Business Ethics: Targeted Outputs’, Journal of Business Ethics 60(4), 377-391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Freyne, P.: 2009, ‘Are Ethics Back in Business?’, Business & Finance January 15, pp 46–47Google Scholar
  15. Fritzsche, D.J., and H, Becker: 1983, ‘Ethical Behavior of Marketing Managers’, Journal of Business Ethics 2(4):291-299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gautschi, F.H. and T.M. Jones: 1998, ‘Enhancing the Ability of Business Students to Recognize Ethical Issues: An Empirical Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Course in Business Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 17(2), 205-216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Giacalone, R.A.: 2008, ‘Taking a Red Pill to Disempower Unethical Students: Creating Ethical Sentinels in Business Schools’, Academy of Management Learning & Education 6(4), 534-542.Google Scholar
  18. Gilligan, C.: 1982, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Developmment (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA).Google Scholar
  19. Gilmartin, S.: 2008, ‘Give as Good as you Get’, Business & Finance, April 11, p. 60Google Scholar
  20. Glenn, J.R. Jr.: 1992, ‘Can a Business and Society Course Affect the Ethical Judgment of Future Managers?’, Journal of Business Ethics 11(3), 217-223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Harris, J.R., and H.J. Guffey Jr.: 1991, ‘A Measure of the Short-Term Effects of Ethical Instruction’, Journal of Marketing Education 13(1), 64-68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Henle, C.A.: 2006, ‘Bad Apples or Bad Barrels? A Former CEO Discusses the Interplay of Person and Situation with Implications for Business Education’, Academy of Management Learning & Education 5(3), 346-355.Google Scholar
  23. Hersey, P., K.H.Blanchard, and D. Johnson: 2000, Management of Organizational Behavior: Leading Human Resources (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ).Google Scholar
  24. Hunt, S.D., and S.J. Vitell: 2006, ‘The General Theory of Marketing Ethics: A Revision and Three Questions’, Journal of Macromarketing 26(2), 143-153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jackall, R.: 1988, Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Manager (Oxford University Press Inc., New York).Google Scholar
  26. Jewe, R.D.: 2008, ‘Do Business Ethics Courses Work? The Effectiveness of Business Ethics Education: An Empirical Study’, The Journal of Global Business Issues 2(1), 1-6.Google Scholar
  27. Kohlberg, L.: 1984, Essays on Moral Development. Volume 2: The Psychology of Moral Development (Harper and Row, San Francisco).Google Scholar
  28. Krehmeyer, D.: 2007, ‘Teaching Business Ethics: A Critical Need’, Business Week B-Schools Viewpoint (online) Oct 25, 2007, Accessed May 2009.
  29. Lau, C., J.F. Hulpke, M. To, and A. Kelly: 2007, ‘Can Ethical Decision Making be Taught? The JUSTICE Approach’, Social Responsibility Journal 3(2), 3-10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lowry, D.: 2003, ‘An Investigation of Student Moral Awareness and Associated Factors in Two Cohorts of an Undergraduate Business Degree in a British University: Implications for Business Ethics Curriculum Design’, Journal of Business Ethics 48(1), 7-19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lysonski, S., and W.Gaidis, W: 1991, ‘A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Ethics of Business Students’, Journal of Business Ethics 10(2), 141-150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. MacFarlane, B.: 2001, ‘Developing Reflective Students: Evaluating the Benefits of Learning Logs within a Business Ethics Programme’, Teaching Business Ethics 5(4), 375-387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Martin, T. R.: 1982, ‘Do Courses in Ethics Improve the Ethical Judgment of Students?’, Business and Society 20(2), 17-26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moore R.S., and S.E. Radloff: 1996, ‘Attitudes Towards Business Ethics Held by South African Students’, Journal of Business Ethics 15(8), 863-869.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Moskal, P., T. Ellis, and T. Keon: 2008, ‘Summary of Assessment in Higher Education and the Management of Student-Learning Data’, Academy of Management Learning & Education 7(2), 269-278.Google Scholar
  36. Phau, I., and G. Kea: 2007, ‘Attitudes of University Students toward Business Ethics: A Cross-National Investigation of Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong’, Journal of Business Ethics 72(1), 61-75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Preble, J.F., and A. Reichel: 1988, ‘Attitudes Towards Business Ethics of Future Managers in the U.S. and Israel’, Journal of Business Ethics 7(12), 941-949.Google Scholar
  38. Rest, J. R.: 1986, Moral Development: Advances in Research and Theory (Praeger, Westport, Connecticut).Google Scholar
  39. Rest, J. R., D. Narvaez, S.J. Thoma, and M.J. Bebeau: 1999, ‘DIT2: Devising and Testing a Revised Instrument of Moral Judgment’, Journal of Educational Psychology 91 (4), 644-659.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rest, J.R., D. Narvaez, S.J. Thoma, and M.J. Bebeau: 2000, ‘A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach to Morality Research’, Journal of Moral Education 29(4),381-395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ritter, B. A.: 2006, ‘Can Business Ethics be Trained? A Study of the Ethical Decision-making Process in Business Students’, Journal of Business Ethics 68(2), 153-164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rossouw, G.J.: 2002, ‘Three Approaches to Teaching Business Ethics’, Teaching Business Ethics 6(4), 411-433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ruegger, D, and E.W. King: 1992, ‘A Study of the Effect of Age and Gender upon Student Business Ethics’, Journal of Business Ethics 11(3), 179-186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schaefli, A., J. Rest, and S. Thoma: 1985, ‘Does Moral Education Improve Moral Judgment? A Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies Using the Defining Issues Test’, Review of Educational Research 55(3), 319-352.Google Scholar
  45. Sims, R.R.: 2002, ‘Business Ethics Teaching for Effective Learning’, Teaching Business Ethics 6(4), 393-410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sims, R.L.: 2006, ‘Comparing Ethical Attitudes Across Cultures’, Cross Cultural Management 13(2), 101-113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sims, R.L., and A.E. Gegez: 2004, ‘Attitudes Towards Business Ethics: A Five Nation Comparative Study’, Journal of Business Ethics 50(3), 253-265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Small, M.W.: 1992, ‘Attitudes Towards Business Ethics Held by Western Australian Students: A Comparative Study’, Journal of Business Ethics 11(10), 745-752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Smith, P. L. and E. F. Oakley: 1997, ‘Gender Related Differences in Ethical and Social Values of Business Student: Implications for Management’, Journal of Business Ethics 16(1), 37-45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stead, B. A., and J. J. Miller: 1988, ‘Can Social Awareness be Increased Though Business School Curricula?’, Journal of Business Ethics 7(7), 553–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Surlin, S.H.: 1987, ‘Value System Changes by Students as a Result of a Media Ethics Course’, Journalism Quarterly 64(2-3), 564-568, 676.Google Scholar
  52. Trevino, L.K.: 1992, ‘Moral Reasoning and Business Ethics: Implications for Research, Education and Management’, Journal of Business Ethics 11(5), 445-459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Veiga, J. F.: 2004, ‘Special Topic: Ethical Behavior in Management’, Academy of Management Executive 18(2), 37-39.Google Scholar
  54. Weber, J.: 1990, ‘Measuring the Impact of Teaching Ethics to Future Managers’, Journal of Business Ethics 9(3), 183-190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Weber, J., and S. Glyptis: 2000, ‘Measuring the Impact of a Business Ethics Course and Community Service Experience on Students’ Values and Opinions’, Teaching Business Ethics 4(4), 41-358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Weber, J., and S. Green: 1991 Principled Moral Reasoning: Is it a Viable Approach to Promote Ethical Integrity?’, Journal of Business Ethics 10 (5) 325-333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Williams, S.D., and T. Dewett: 2005, ‘Yes, You Can Teach Business Ethics: A Review and Research Agenda’, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies 12(2), 109-120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wittmer, D.: 1992, ‘Ethical Sensitivity and Managerial Decisionmaking: An Experiment’, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 2(4), 443-462.Google Scholar
  59. Wright, M.: 1995, ‘Can Moral Judgment and Ethical Behavior be Learned’, Management Decision 33(10), 17-28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wynd, W. R., and J. Mager: 1989, ‘The Business and Society Course: Does it Change Student Attitudes?’, Journal of Business Ethics 8(6), 487-491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College DublinBelfield, DublinIreland

Personalised recommendations