[Note: This site is just a skeleton for now. We will begin adding content in Spring 2013 and expect to be fully operational by August 2013]
People commonly think that bad behavior is caused by bad people. If we want to reduce the prevalence of ethical implosions in corporations, government agencies, and other institutions, we should either 1) train people to be more ethical, or 2) do a better job of finding the unethical individuals and get them fired or punished.
While "bad apples" certainly exist, the general finding in social psychology is that evil is far better explained by properties of situations and systems. You can spend a lot of time and money giving people training in ethics, yet there is hardly any evidence that such training will change anyone's behavior beyond the classroom. Or you can make small, cheap, and simple changes to environments and get big, instant effects. (See here for examples).
As an organizing framework, we view the human mind as being like a small rider (conscious, controlled mental processes) on top of a very large elephant (unconscious and automatic processes, including intuition and emotion). The metaphor comes originally from Haidt, but was developed further by Heath & Heath, who noted that If you want to change behavior, you've got three options: Change the rider, change the elephant, or change the path.
The guiding idea of EthicalSystems.org is that the best way to improve ethical behavior is to change the path. The second best way is to change the elephant. The least effective way is to train the rider.
Our goal at EthicalSystems.org is to bring together research from many disciplines that can help leaders and policy experts to do "ethical systems engineering." That means designing systems (paths) that will end up producing more ethical behavior, without more than minimal "rider training."
Webmaster: David Dobolyi, University of Virginia