Integrity, Identity, and Pluralistic Ignorance: When Scientific Vocation Impedes the Reporting of Wrongdoing

Project: Research project

Project Details


Significant research has been devoted to how extrinsic, instrumental gains of the research enterprise can motivate ethical misbehavior, but fewer scholars have examined how intrinsic motivations can lead to ethical malfeasance. Additionally, ethics research has assumed that identifying with intrinsic motivations can help to inoculate researchers against misconduct, as investigators become virtuous by identifying with the altruistic motivations of discovery in the sciences. Our research seeks to challenge that narrative with the driving question: does personal identification with intrinsic value of the scientific enterprise paradoxically leave researchers more at risk of ethical misbehavior? We predict that despite the virtuous intentions of researchers who identify strongly with the intrinsic motivations of the scientific enterprise, the socio-psychological phenomenon of pluralistic ignorance can lead to an increase in unethical decision making on research teams. We propose to empirically test this hypothesis using both traditional social science survey methodologies and Q-method survey methodologies to examine the explicit and implicit motivation of researchers, their perceptions of colleagues potential for ethical misconduct, and how likely they are to speak up when encountering ethical misbehavior. Working closely with experts in both ethical formation and organizational identity formation, we will develop recommendations for how to address pluralistic ignorance, group cohesion, and diffusion of responsibility in a way that attends to both the explicit and implicit motivating factors of research misconduct and ethical formation.
Effective start/end date8/1/197/31/21


  • HHS-OS: Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH): $145,616.00


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