Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 467–476 | Cite as

Computer simulation of dental professionals as a moral community

  • David W. ChambersEmail author
Scientific Contribution


Current empirical studies of moral behavior of healthcare professionals are almost entirely focused on self-reports, usually collected under the assumption that an ethical disposition characterizes individuals across various contexts. It is well known, however, that individuals adjust their behavior to what they see being done by those in their peer group. That presents a methodological challenge to traditional research within a community of peers because the behavior of each individual is both the result of norms and a contributor to the norms of others. Computer simulations can be used to address this methodological challenge. A Markov replicator model that runs on an Excel spreadsheet was used to investigate a community with four agent types in the dental community: devious practitioners, ethical practitioners who avoid involvement in the poor ethics of others, ethical practitioners who accept it as part of their professional responsibility to challenge colleagues who act unprofessionally, and those who enforce ethical standards. A panel of leaders in the profession independently estimated parameters for the model and criteria for a possible distribution of agent types in the community. The simulation converged on distributions of the agent types that were very similar to the expectations of the panel. The simulation suggests the following characteristics of such moral communities: The structure of such communities is robust across a wide distribution. It appears that reduction in unethical behavior is more sensitive to the way ethical practitioners interact with each other than to sanctions the enforcement community imposes on unethical practitioners, and that large external interventions will be short lived.


Moral community Simulation Cheating 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arthur A. Dugoni School of DentistryUniversity of the PacificSan FranciscoUSA

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