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wundayatta's avatar

What questions would you put on a questionnaire to measure ethics?

Asked by wundayatta (58596points) April 22nd, 2010

If you were designing a questionnaire that asked people to imagine various situations and describe their level of agreement with the statement about the situation, what questions would you include? Why?

Here’s an example of some of the questions I think could be useful on an ethics questionnaire (the answers could be selected from a scale with the following points—never; almost never; occasionally; sometimes; often; always):

In business, it is important that others believe you agree with them

I tell the truth to my friends

It’s important not to make waves at work

I don’t talk about things I know others will disagree with

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26 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

What would you do if you a saw a valued customer behaving in an unethical manner?

squidcake's avatar

If I saw someone drop $20, I would run up and return it to them.
If I witnessed some questionable activity, I would contact the authorities.
When I see people dying on the news, I feel sad for their situation.
If someone spread a rumor about me, I would turn the other cheek.

gorillapaws's avatar

Some of those questions are a pretty crappy gauge of a person’s ethics. For example: “I tell the truth to my friends.” If you checked always, that may be less ethical than checking sometimes. E.g. my friend asks me if the client I’m legally representing is guilty… Being truthful here is horribly unethical, and there are even instances where we are morally obligated to lie (like the famous “are there jews hiding in your attic?” question).

I don’t believe something so nebulous can be captured in such a childishly simple style of questionnaire. Hell, people who study ethics for a living have a hard-time figuring out where to draw the lines, so the results of such a test are likely to correlate very poorly to someone’s actual degree of ethics.

I think understanding the context for your test might be helpful. Are you able to share this with us?

Coloma's avatar

Do you squash bugs just because you can? lolol

phillis's avatar

The same questions would work that are in a game that came and went. Do you remember a game called Scruples, Wundayatta? The primary difference between your question and the game is that you offer degrees of applicability and opinion, whereas the game intended to promote discussion based on moral dilemmas. The end result is essentially the same, and can give some interesting insights when running the Johari Window Test before and after your questionaire. Here are a few examples:

You know a spouse is cheating. Do you tell someone so that it gets back to their spouse?
Your property tax wasn’t calculated to include the newly finished basement. Do you report it?
The waiter forgets to bill you for an item. Do you mention it?
Do you tell someone they have food visibly caught in their teeth?
You find a PDA. Do you keep it or return it?
Your friend wants pizza, you want chinese. What do you do?
You fart in public. Do you say excuse me?
You find a diary. Do you read it?
You find the answer sheet to an important test. Do you read the answers?

gorillapaws's avatar

Also are the questions themselves weighted? so if I answer ‘always’ to the question “Do you derive pleasure from the taking of human life” and ‘never’ to the question “Do you derive pleasure from the taking of animal life” the answers would cancel each other out points wise?

janbb's avatar

I agree you would want more nuanced, perhaps situational questions to try to assess someone’s ethics. Who would say they would lie to a friend?

How about something like, “The doctor has told you your friend has only three months to lvie. You know this knowledge would make your friend very depressed and the possibility of any healing would be seriously impaired. Should you tell them what the doctor said?’

wonderingwhy's avatar

One problem with such questions is they’re all circumstantial. When you create the question you have a certain picture in mind as does the person answering, the problem is those pictures are rarely the same. Another problem is, is the person giving their answer or the answer they think you want to hear?

Rather than just a simple scale, ask for their reasoning behind the answer. That may give you a bit more insight.

Try a question like this (obviously tailored to your needs): Alice causes Bob significant and undue hardship at work but in doing so Alice clearly drives forward the goals of the company. Bob is promoted ahead of Alice. Should Bob fire Alice? Why?

You can define Alice’s actions as unethical if you want or ask if Alice should have been promoted instead, or ask how they would handle the situation as a manager, whatever you need. The idea is to give them an example with no right or wrong answer and see how they justify it.

wundayatta's avatar

Interesting that people are talking about the benefits of various forms of assessment. If this were an academic exercise, you’d want to test each instrument for internal and external validity. But this isn’t an academic exercise.

@phillis I agree that doing more qualitative study of answers to these topics would be interesting. To some degree that it what happens here at fluther.

But what I think this generates is a set of ethical questions that one could rework and ask at fluther. There are many choices we can make, and it is more interesting to look at the nuanced ones, if you look at them singly.

When doing Likert scale questions, you often ask the same question in a number of different ways to see how consistent a person is. It also doesn’t matter whether you ask what you think is an obvious question, because the results would be scored in the aggregate, not just on single questions.

What instrument you use depends on your purpose in using it. An assessment instrument leads to something different than a game with discussion (essentially a focus group) leads to something different than an interview with a respondent.

I don’t know if the topics in the ethical questions tell us anything, or if there is a way of categorizing the kinds of questions or the kinds of moral dilemmas they raise. I don’t know if there are distinct ways of thinking about ethics. I do know that some of the questions, if not all of them, would be interesting to pose as fluther questions, in case any of you are interested. Otherwise, I may mine this question when I’m feeling a bit uninspired.

gorillapaws's avatar

@wundayatta what about the weighting though? You could have someone that answers many of the “vanilla” ethical questions very normally, but then a couple really disturbing ones in the affirmative. Most people would have ethical concerns about such an individual, but on a test like this, he would appear normal or even above-average based on his overall aggregate score.

wundayatta's avatar

I don’t see how this wouldn’t appear very clearly in the results. It’s not like one answer can cancel out another answer. I’m not taking an average score. I would probably score on several different measures (or aspects) of morality. But it’s all moot, because that’s not why I’m asking this question.

gorillapaws's avatar

@wundayatta “I’m not taking an average score.” I see, I misunderstood you when you mentioned “scored in the aggregate.”

I think perhaps the most appropriate method would be to provide detailed scenarios, and then have detailed answers that correspond to the approaches of the various moral theories (Categorical Imperative, Utilitarianism, Distributive Justice, Virtue Ethics etc.).

Coloma's avatar


I’m in the brutally honest camp…EXCEPT acknowledging the ‘farting in public’ dilemma.

NO! Just hope no one gets ‘wind’ of it and quickly move along. lol

evandad's avatar

Do you lie?

phillis's avatar

@wundayatta There has to be a way of isolating and qualifying mindsets, because answers will change according to the ethics and morals each person employs. Two extremely trustworthy people won’t give the same answers to all the questions.

As a gf and I are discussing in chat right now, not even something as basic as the concept of “disappointment” is the same, from person to person. In order to lessen the likelihood of skewed answers, you’d have to offer strict definitions of key words above each question presented, but then you eliminate concept. So, it depends on what your wanting to glean from the answers.

@Coloma Does honesty have to be brutal to be considered honesty? Or are those the standards the ones you adhere to, yourself? fart comment duly noted :)

wundayatta's avatar

@phillis There are statistical techniques—factor analysis and facet analysis, among others—that help you sort out the various aspects of a concept. You just ask a set of questions, and then analyze whether there are people who tend to answer the survey in similar ways. You group them according to how they answered on similar questions, and then look at that difference and give it a label. That’s my attempt to put the stats math into English.

It doesn’t matter so much how good your questions are, as it does that they allow you to differentiate between people, and that they give you the feedback you need to make the questions better. The nice thing about this kind of instrument is that the same data can easily help answer many more research questions than the instrument designer had in mind. Yes, it depends on what you want to glean from it, but it is also possible to repurpose the data. Then again, sometimes (often) it is necessary to design a new instrument in order to answer a different (though related) question.

Coloma's avatar


Well..perhaps I should rephrase that, meaning I believe in brutal SELF honesty, and tempered honesty with others.

Tempered as in not unkind, but neither coddling. ;-)

phillis's avatar

@wundayatta With a little thought and research you (or I) could come up with a nice test. There are ways of streamlining the answers, like you said. I agree. I just don’t know what they are. A statistics analyst could tell you, though.

@Coloma Agreed! I am exactly that way with myself, but allow others a lot more leeway. Doing it in reverse wins you lots of enemies.

Siren's avatar

One question I saw in a personality questionnaire when applying for a job was if I had ever stolen anything, and if I had the opportunity to do so (and get away with it), would I?

How about if you would report a crime you witnessed, even if it caused some inconvenience to you? (ie time, expense, etc).

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Siren I wonder if they actually expect anyone to answer “yes.” Questionnaires like that have a social desirability bias—the responder is going to give the answer he/she thinks the questionner wants to hear.

Siren's avatar

@Dr_Dredd: That’s possible, but the questionnaire in general was designed to trip up someone if they contradicted themselves. You know those type of smart questionnaires. Makes you think wait, I answered a similar question differently on page 5.

Also, this was the type of job where they did a background check on you anyways to see if you had ever been convicted of a felony, etc..

If the questions are asked in a vague enough fashion, sometimes a person doesn’t know they are being asked an ethical question, especially if they don’t have subscribe to many ethics in their lives!

gorillapaws's avatar

@Siren my cousin who is a bit like a young ned-flanders in terms of always doing the right thing and striving to be a beacon of good in the world ended up getting labeled as a security risk in the Army because of one of those control questions.

It asked if he’d ever seen a psychologist to which he responded no, but later asked if he’d ever had counseling (which he interpreted to mean guidance counseling for colleges) which he answered yes. So this Eagle scout got put in the same group as all of the people with criminal records etc. Sad and funny at the same time.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Siren Heh. Good point!

Siren's avatar

@gorillapaws: That really sucks for your cousin. But at least he is safe and not being shipped off to any unstable countries where he could get killed. Maybe a blessing in disguise for sticking to his ned-flanders guns and doing the right thing?

@Dr_Dredd: Thanks friend!

gorillapaws's avatar

@Siren actually, they sent him to Iraq. He made it back ok and is now in Korea. Awesome guy, but pretty crappy luck.

Siren's avatar

@gorillapaws: Wow! I hope your cousin stays safe. So far it looks like he has a force field of protection around him to keep him going.

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