Expressive Effects of Ethical Codes

Project: Research project

Project Details


Our approach to the interpretation of codes will allow us to divide the process into the following stages:

1. Understanding the codes [Are particular sections of the codes more or less likely to trigger disagreement about understanding? Are ambiguous parts of the codes always likely to be interpreted narrowly? Are ambiguous parts of the codes better at changing people attitudes' regarding behaviors which are not mentioned in the code?]

2. Understanding the interpreters [do people interpret the codes differently based on past behavior, CRT, cognitive abilities, education, risk perceptions? what kind of information do different people look for?]

3. Focusing on the interaction between codes and interpreters, thus learning about how different types of interpreters' react to the different segments of the code [what sections of the codes are more likely to gain high shared interpretation among people who are, say, high on risk, trust or moral disengagement?]

We will use a combination of surveys and experimental surveys to investigate these questions. We may also use text analysis methods to analyze both content and structure of the codes, relying on frequency counts of words or phrases14 and/or creating word networks of nouns and noun phrases in order to represent main concepts, their influence, and their interrelationships.

International perspective
An additional future approach might be to look at codes of ethics from different countries: the content and values covered between American, European, and Asian codes differs quite significantly.

Expected impact of the results
We expect this project to carry a few important contributions. First it could help improve the expressive powers of ethical codes in organization. Second, we can help in creating a ranking system for the codes based on their ability to convey the meaning of the code. Moreover, we can make sure that interaction between the text of the code, people's ability to understand the code, and their ethical behavior is taken into account in a proper way. More specifically, we hope that the results of this study could help policy makers deal with framing dilemmas which were raised in previous studies20 such as the need to mention particular sanctions in the code, the usage of legalistic vs. plain language, the usage of firm specific examples vs. using just abstract issues, usage of standards vs. rules21 and the usage of moral language.
Effective start/end date8/25/146/15/15


  • Harvard University (MOU 8/25/14)

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