Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 183–195 | Cite as

Taking Emotion Seriously: Meeting Students Where They Are

  • Mary E. Sunderland
Original Paper


Emotions are often portrayed as subjective judgments that pose a threat to rationality and morality, but there is a growing literature across many disciplines that emphasizes the centrality of emotion to moral reasoning. For engineers, however, being rational usually means sequestering emotions that might bias analyses—good reasoning is tied to quantitative data, math, and science. This paper brings a new pedagogical perspective that strengthens the case for incorporating emotions into engineering ethics. Building on the widely established success of active and collaborative learning environments, in particular the problem-based learning (PBL) philosophy and methodology, the paper articulates new strategies for incorporating emotion into engineering ethics education. An ethics education pilot study is analyzed to explore how PBL can engage students’ emotions. Evidence suggests that PBL empowers students to cultivate value for engineering ethics and social responsibility, and in doing so, redefine the societal role of the engineer. Taking students’ emotions seriously in engineering ethics offers an effective strategy to meaningfully engage students in ethical learning.


Emotion Engineering Ethics Pedagogy Self-directed learning Problem-based learning 



A version of this paper was presented at the Moral Emotions and Risk Politics conference at Delft University of Technology, August 2012; thank you to all who attended and provided valuable feedback. I am grateful to Cathryn Carson, William Kastenberg, and Joonhong Ahn for helpful comments on earlier drafts. This material was based upon work supported by a seed grant from the University of California, Berkeley College of Engineering and the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1237830.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society, Office for History of Science and TechnologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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