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Development of Strategies for Improving Ethical Decision-Making in the Sciences

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Ethical decision-making is commonly considered critical to understanding integrity in research settings. Unfortunately, available models of how scientists think about ethical issues have proven unsatisfactory. In the present effort we argue that ethical decision-making occurs in complex, ill-defined situations where the decisions that an individual makes depends on several key processes, including: 1) framing, 2) emotional regulation, 3) forecasting, 4) self-reflection, and 5) sensemaking. Strategies contributing to effective application of each of these five processes will be identified in an initial series of experimental studies in samples of undergraduates. The generality of these conclusions will then be tested in a second set of experimental studies conducted using doctoral student volunteers from the Health, Biological, and Social sciences who will be participating in a required training course on Responsible Conduct of Research. Based on the findings obtained in these studies concerning the strategies contributing to ethical decision-making, three practical applications will be developed and field tested in a sample of doctoral students. These include: 1) a self-guided tutorial for understanding processes and strategies that are more and less effective for ethical decision-making, 2) an "on-line" decision support system, and 3) strategy application exercises for Responsible Conduct of Research courses. The obtained results should not only serve to validate key processes contributing to ethical decision-making, but the associated strategies identified in this research should provide a basis for a new wave of interventions.

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