Faculty Research: Deliberation remains an important element of ethical behavior

In a series of studies, Rutgers Business School researchers demonstrated the value of normative deliberation, including the use of a corporate ethical framework, when individuals are facing a dilemma at work.

Wrestling with a tough decision? It might be better to consider more than your gut, according to new research from Rutgers Business School.

In a paper published in the Journal of Business Ethics, Professor Danielle Warren and her co-authors challenge recent research that favors intuition over deliberation when making tough decisions.

Even the title of the paper – “Don’t just trust your gut” – reflects the authors’ finding that employees should check their gut reactions to make better decisions. Effective strategies for evaluating a gut reaction include considering ethical standards, like the ones often found in corporate ethics frameworks, or pondering the interests of stakeholders, according to the research.

The authors carried out six experiments, using forms of normative deliberations that were not tested previously, including corporate ethics frameworks and the interests of stakeholders. The experiments tested mathematical deliberation, verbal deliberation, and different forms of normative deliberation – deliberating what is the right thing to do by considering the perspectives of others or ethical obligations – as well as no deliberation.

“Our studies provide much needed evidence that pushes back on recent trends in behavioral ethics, which favor intuition over deliberation. For the business community, the findings provide validation of tools that firms are using to promote ethical decision-making but have not been empirically tested.”
- Professor Danielle Warren

The researchers found no evidence that any form of deliberation disrupts intuitive processes or hinders ethical judgements or behavior. In two of the experiments, they found that normative deliberation guided by decision tools found inside some companies (They modeled one after Merck’s code of conduct) did promote ethical decision-making and ethical behavior.

“We are not suggesting the employees ignore their gut,” Warren said. “We are recommending that employees check their gut reactions by considering ethical standards, such as those found in corporate ethics frameworks.”

The findings are important for both the research community and business, Warren said.

“Our studies provide much needed evidence that pushes back on recent trends in behavioral ethics, which favor intuition over deliberation,” she said. “For the business community, the findings provide validation of tools that firms are using to promote ethical decision-making but have not been empirically tested.”

In addition to Warren, who teaches business ethics at Rutgers, the team of researchers included Professor Tobey Scharding, a philosopher and Rutgers Business School professor, and recent Rutgers Business School Ph.D. graduates, Mahak Nagpal and Oyku Arkan.

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