Does neuroscience help us understand business ethics? This week’s articles provide some food for thought.
What does neuroscience offer business ethics?
Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience research portend well for furthering understanding of many of the fundamental questions in the field of business ethics, both normative and empirical. This article provides an overview of neuroscience methodology and brain structures, and explores the areas in which neuroscience research has contributed findings of value to business ethics, as well as suggesting areas for future research.
Neuroscience research is especially capable of providing insight into individual reactions to ethical issues, while also raising challenging normative questions about the nature of moral responsibility, autonomy, intent, and free will. This article also provides a brief summary of the papers included in this special issue, attesting to the richness of scholarly inquiry linking neuroscience and business ethics.
The authors conclude that neuroscience offers considerable promise to the field of business ethics, but caution against overpromise.
Diana C. Robertson, Christian Voegtlin and Thomas Maak. 2017. Business Ethics: The Promise of Neuroscience.
Journal of Business Ethics, 144(4), 679–697.
Are male and female brains wired differently for business ethics?
Recent, groundbreaking work in neuroscience has illuminated sex differences that could have a profound impact on business organisations. Distinctions between the sexes that may have previously been presumed to be due to “nurture” may now also be demonstrably related to “nature.”
Here, the author reports recent neuroscience findings related to males’ and females’ brain structures and brain chemistry, along with the results of recent neuroeconomic studies. We learn not only that male and female brains are structured differently, but also that different portions of their brains are used for the same tasks, often leading to identical conclusions.
Neuroeconomic studies also demonstrate that the effects of hormones—most notably, oxytocin and testosterone—urge males and females to both think and behave differently in ethical situations. The author suggests that examination of these new results could benefit six areas of business ethics research: trust, moral decision-making, organisational justice, moral development, the ethic of care, and female management styles.
The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for business practice, suggesting that it may be ethical to allow men and women to be treated differently in the workplace: such treatment may be advantageous not only for the workers’ firms, but also for the workers themselves.
Lori Verstegen Ryan. 2017. Sex Differences Through a Neuroscience Lens: Implications for Business Ethics.
Journal of Business Ethics, 144(4), 771–782.
Neuroscience and practical ethics: Review and challenges
Neuroethics is an interdisciplinary field that arose in response to novel ethical challenges posed by advances in neuroscience. Historically, neuroethics has provided an opportunity to synergise different disciplines, notably proposing a two-way dialogue between an ‘ethics of neuroscience’ and a ‘neuroscience of ethics’.
However, questions surface as to whether a ‘neuroscience of ethics’ is a useful and unified branch of research and whether it can actually inform or lead to theoretical insights and transferable practical knowledge to help resolve ethical questions. In this article, the authors examine why the neuroscience of ethics is a promising area of research and summarise what has been learned so far regarding its most promising goals and contributions.
The authors then review some of the key methodological challenges which may have hindered the use of results generated thus far by the neuroscience of ethics. Strategies are suggested to address these challenges and improve the quality of research and increase neuroscience’s usefulness for applied ethics and society at large.
Finally, the writers reflect on potential outcomes of a neuroscience of ethics and discuss the different strategies that could be used to support knowledge transfer to help different stakeholders integrate knowledge from the neuroscience of ethics.
Eric Racine, Veljko Dubljević, Ralf J. Jox, Bernard Baertschi, Julia F. Christensen, Michele Farisco, Fabrice Jotterand, Guy Kahane and Sabine Müller. 2017. Can Neuroscience Contribute to Practical Ethics? A Critical Review and Discussion of the Methodological and Translational Challenges of the Neuroscience of Ethics.
Bioethics, 31(5), 328–337.
Sense of justice and neuroscience
According to deontic justice theory, individuals often feel principled moral obligations to uphold norms of justice. That is, standards of justice can be valued for their own sake, even apart from serving self-interested goals.
While a growing body of evidence in business ethics supports the notion of deontic justice, skepticism remains. This hesitation results, at least in part, from the absence of a coherent framework for explaining how individuals produce and experience deontic justice. To address this need, the authors argue that a compelling, yet still missing, step is to gain further understanding into the underlying neural and psychological mechanisms of deontic justice.
Here, the authors advance a theoretical model that disentangles three key processes of deontic justice: The use of justice rules to assess events, cognitive empathy, and affective empathy. Together with reviewing neural systems supporting these processes, broader implications of the model for business ethics scholarship are discussed.
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Russell S. Cropanzano, Sebastiano Massaro and William J. Becker. 2017. Deontic Justice and Organizational Neuroscience.
Journal of Business Ethics, 144(4), 733–754.
Can cognitive neuroscience help explain business ethics?
Most theory in business ethics is still steeped in rationalist and moral-realist assumptions. However, some seminal neuroscientific studies point to the primacy of moral emotions and intuition in shaping moral judgment. In line with previous interpretations, the author suggests that a dual-system explanation of emotional-intuitive automaticity (reflexion) and deliberative reasoning (reflection) is the most appropriate view.
However, his interpretation of the evidence also contradicts Greene’s conclusion that nonconsequentialist decision making is primarily sentimentalist or affective at its core, while utilitarianism is largely rational-deliberative. Instead, he proposes that current research on the human brain, in conjunction with converging experimental evidence, hints at moral subjectivism and its evolutionary basis as the most persuasive explanation of morality.
These anti-realist conjectures have far-reaching implications for a wide range of topics in business ethics, as illustrated with the specific case of corporate social responsibility as a potentially tribal conception of the good.
Marc Orlitzky. 2017. How Cognitive Neuroscience Informs a Subjectivist-Evolutionary Explanation of Business Ethics.
Journal of Business Ethics, 144(4), 717–732.
Does organisational cognitive neuroscience drive theoretical progress?
In this critical essay, the authors respond to Lindebaum’s argument that neuroscientific methodologies and data have been accepted prematurely in proposing novel management theory.
They acknowledge that building new management theories requires firm foundations. The authors also find his distinction between demand and supply-side forces helpful as an analytical framework identifying the momentum for the contemporary production of management theory. Nevertheless, some of the arguments Lindebaum puts forward, on closer inspection, can be contested, especially those related to the supply side of organisational cognitive neuroscience research: functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data, motherhood statements and ethical concerns.
The authors put forward a more positive case for organisational cognitive neuroscience methodologies and data, as well as clarifying exactly what organisational cognitive neuroscience really means, and its consequences for the development of strong management theory.
Michael JR Butler, Nick Lee and Carl Senior. 2017. Critical Essay: Organizational cognitive neuroscience drives theoretical progress, or: The curious case of the straw man murder.
Human Relations, 70(10), 1171-1190.