Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




David W. Leslie


Past approaches to teaching ethics have been rooted primarily within the cognitive developmental tradition, with the focus on developing moral reasoning. Recent studies in cognitive neuroscience and social psychology have challenged this emphasis, highlighting the primacy of the emotion in driving moral decision-making. This study proposed that empathy may be an appropriate construct for integrating both processes, and that an moral education intervention that focused on empathetic perspective-taking based on Martin Hoffman's work may prove effective in both advancing moral reasoning and empathy. This approach was applied using a quasi-experimental design with undergraduate business students (N = 181) within a semester-long business ethics course. It was predicted that the class section receiving the empathetic perspective-taking intervention would show more growth on both perspective-taking (Interpersonal Reactivity Index, PT subscale) and moral reasoning (Defining Issues Test-2) measures than the comparison groups receiving the principled moral reasoning approach. Results from repeated measures ANOVAs by group indicated statistically significant differences for the comparison group increases on moral reasoning (DIT-2 N2 score); no difference was seen in the intervention group on either moral reasoning or perspective-taking. The results, however, did indicated a significant difference by gender for the intervention group on one of the subscales, Empathetic Concern, with women increasing and men decreasing in empathetic concern. A discussion of the results offers specific suggestions for integrating empathy into business ethics courses, balancing moral reasoning with emotional engagement and addressing issues related to gender. Also, this study suggests the need for skill-based, context specific measures of empathy.



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