Papers Proceedings »
Ethical education and the activation of default mode network and task positive network: interlinking educational and neural perspectives
Society today is dealing with ‘super wicked problems’, such as global warming, pinpointing the complexity and uncertainty of sustainability issues. Advanced competences are required to cope with these problems, often referred to as individual sustainability competences (ISCs). Yet managers in private companies often display personality traits linked with unethical behaviour. These personality traits are linked with a lack of empathy and normative awareness. As both empathy and normativity play an important role in ISCs, this poses a threat to tackling wicked problems in business settings. Unethical behaviour displayed by managers is a societal problem, and also negatively influences a company’s reputation. In order to prepare future entrepreneurs to take ethical decisions, universities and business schools worldwide have introduced ethical courses, often linked with sustainability and corporate social responsibility. The effectiveness of these efforts is questionable, as unethical behaviour still occurs and educational and business environments rather seem to encourage unethical and unsustainable behaviour. Ethical decision making is regarded as an important aspect of Individual Sustainability Competences (ISCs). This study analyses the specific role of ISCs in ethics courses, in relation to recent neuroscientific insights concerning the activation of the neural default mode network and task positive network. During ethical decision making processes, both neural networks need to be activated in order to lead to ethical decisions. Many of the ISCs are directly linked to ethics, such as normative competence, systems thinking, and interpersonal competence. Developing and acquiring these competences however remains challenging in higher education, and it is unclear if and how these competences play (or could; or should play) a role in ethics education. In order to reach this aim, the study follows a multiple case study approach with three data sources: (1) in class observations in ethical courses with students in business and management education programs in universities, university colleges and business schools in the Netherlands and Belgium; (2) in depth interviews with university educators in the selected higher education institutions; (3) desk research focusing on the syllabi, course content and files of the selected courses. Results show that the activation of the neural default mode network and task positive network only occurs occasionally in ethics courses. Educators are not aware of the neurological processes taking place when ethical decision making is the focus of debate. Making these neural processes visible toward educators, and interlinking them with the ISCs might contribute to strengthening the ethical education within higher education, and later on in the business context. The study thus results in guidelines to improve ethical education in universities and to support entrepreneurial ethical decision making in business settings.