Mind & Society

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 181–190 | Cite as

Business education: Does a focus on prosocial values increase students’ pro-social behavior?

  • Malte PetersenEmail author
  • Monika Keller
  • Jürgen Weibler
  • Wasilios Hariskos


Prior research has shown a pronounced self-orientation in students of business and economics. This article examines if self-orientation can be alleviated by a focus on prosocial values in business education. In a cross-sectional design, we test the prosocial behavior and values of bachelor students at the beginning and the end of a traditional 3-year business administration program. We compare their behavior with the behavior of two different groups: students from an ethically-oriented international management school and students from a social work program of equal length. The results showed that students of business administration show less prosocial behavior in a dictator game than students in the other two groups. This difference is larger between final-year students than between first-year students. According to the results of the Schwartz Value Survey, the Inglehart Index, and a scale for preferences for distributive justice, students in the three disciplines differ substantially in prosocial values, but there is no significant difference between first and last semester students of the same discipline. We conclude that there is no transmission of self-oriented behavior through self-oriented values emended in traditional business education curricula. Instead, students seem to select academic programs according to their personal and preexisting social orientations.


Prosocial behavior Prosocial values Materialistic orientation Attitudes towards justice Self-selection Socialization Business education 



  1. Baird JS (1980) Current trends in college cheating. Psychol Schools 17:515–522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Caplan B (2002) Systematically biased beliefs about economics: robust evidence of judgemental anomalies from the survey of Americans and economists on the economy. Econ J 112(479):433–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carter JR, Irons MD (1991) Are economists different, and if so, why? J Econ Perspect 5(2):171–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Forsythe R, Horowitz JL, Savin NE, Sefton M (1994) Fairness in simple bargaining experiments. Games Econ Behav 6:347–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Frank RH, Gilovich TD, Regan DT (1993) Does studying economics inhibit cooperation. J Econ Perspect 7(2):159–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Frank R, Gilovich TD, Regan DT (1996) Do economists make bad citizens? J Econ Perspect 10(1):187–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Frey BS, Meier S (2003) Are political economists selfish and indoctrinated? Evidence from a natural experiment. Econ Inq 41(3):448–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Frey BS, Meier S (2005) Selfish and indoctrinated economists? Eur J Law Econ 19(103):165–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Frey BS, Pommerehne WW, Gygi B (1993) Economic indoctrination or selection? Some empirical results. J Econ Educ 24(3):271–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gandal N, Roccas S, Sagiv L, Wrzeniewski A (2005) Personal value priorities of economists. Hum Relat 58(10):1227–1252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Glenn JR (1992) Can a business and society course affect the ethical judgment of future managers? J Bus Ethics 11(3):217–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hamilton RF, Hargens LL (1993) The politics of the professors: self-identifications, 1969–1984. Soc Forces 71(3):603–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Inglehart R (1971) The silent revolution in europe: intergenerational change in post-industrial societies. Am Polit Sci Rev 65(4):991–1017CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Inglehart R (1981) Post-materialism in an environment of insecurity. Am Polit Sci Rev 75(4):880–900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jacobsen KJ, Eika KH, Helland L, Lind JT, Nyborg K (2011) Are nurses more altruistic than real estate brokers? J Econ Psychol 32(5):818–831CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. James T, Soroka L, Benjafield JG (2001) Are economists rational, or just different? Soc Behav Personal 29(4):359–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kahneman D, Knetsch JL, Thaler RH (1986) Fairness and the assumptions of economics. J Bus 59(4):S285–S300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Marnburg E (2003) Educational impacts on academic business practitioner’s moral reasoning and behaviour: effects of short courses in ethics or philosophy. Bus Ethics Eur Rev 12(4):403–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Marwell G, Ames R (1981) Economists free ride. Does anyone else? J Public Econ 15:295–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. McCabe DL, Butterfield KD, Trevino LK (2006) Academic dishonesty in graduate business programs: Prevalence, causes, and proposed action. Acad Manag Learn Educ 5(3):294–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. McDonald GM (2004) A case example: integrating ethics into the academic business curriculum. J Bus Ethics 54(4):371–384CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Phillips SM (2004) Ethics education in business schools: report of the Ethics Education Task Force to AACSB International’s Board of Directors, Tampa, FLGoogle Scholar
  23. Racko G (2010) On the normative consequences of economic rationality: a case study of a Swedish Economics School in Latvia. Eur Sociol Rev 27(6):772–789CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ritter BA (2006) Can business ethics be trained? A study of the ethical decision-making process in business students. J Bus Ethics 68(2):153–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schmitt M, Maes J, Schmal A (1995) Gerechtigkeit als innerdeutsches Problem: Einstellungen zu Verteilungsprinzipien, Ungerechtigkeitssensibilität und Glaube an eine gerechte Welt als Kovariate. University of Trier, TrierGoogle Scholar
  26. Schmitt M, Maes J, Schmal A (1997) Gerechtigkeit als innerdeutsches Problem: Analyse der Meßeigenschaften von Meßinstrumenten für Einstellungen zu Verteilungsprinzipien, Ungerechtigkeitssensibilität und Glaube an eine gerechte Welt. University of Trier, TrierGoogle Scholar
  27. Schwartz SH (1992) Universals in the content and structure of values: theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 25:1–65Google Scholar
  28. Selten R, Ockenfels A (1998) An experimental solidarity game. J Econ Behav Organ 34(4):517–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Stigler GJ (1959) The politics of political economists. Q J Econ 73(4):522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wang L, Malhotra D, Murnighan JK (2011) Economics education and greed. Acad Manag Learn Educ 10(4):643–660CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Weber J (1990) Measuring the impact of teaching ethics to future managers: a review, assessment, and recommendations. J Bus Ethics 9(3):183–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wynd WR, Mager J (1989) The business and society course: Does it change student attitudes? J Bus Ethics 8(6):487–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yezer AM, Goldfarb RS, Poppen PJ (1996) Does studying economics discourage cooperation? Watch what we do, not what we say or how we play. J Econ Perspect 10(1):177–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Malte Petersen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Monika Keller
    • 2
  • Jürgen Weibler
    • 3
  • Wasilios Hariskos
    • 4
  1. 1.Federal-DNR ChancelleryBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Center for Adaptive RationalityMax Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany
  3. 3.Chair of Business Administration, Leadership and Organization, Faculty of Business Administration and EconomicsUniversity of HagenHagenGermany
  4. 4.Center for Empirical Research in Economics and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of ErfurtErfurtGermany

Personalised recommendations