Does a STEM researcher’s role orientation predict his or her ethical sensitivity to responsible conduct of research?

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences; Department of Humanities


A role orientation inventory provides a record of the way in which an individual orients himself or herself with respect to a particular role that he or she plays within society. Role orientation inventories were originally developed to measure an individual’s professional role orientation,for instance, with regard to being a dentist, doctor, social worker, etc. A role orientation inventory can answer questions such as: Does a doctor see her role as primarily that of providing her patient with a service in exchange for payment? Does a dentist understand his role as fundamentally consisting of serving the best interests of his patients? Does a social worker see her role as an authority figure?A test of ethical sensitivity measures an individual’s ability to recognize and take account of the ethically relevant elements of ethically-charged situations, e.g., the rights and obligations of those involved, applicable principles and ethical guidelines, and the consequences of particular courses of action, etc. Also originally developed for the field of professional ethics, ethical sensitivity tests provide information about an individual’s ability to map out and size up a situation involving ethics prior to making an ethical judgment. In fact, one’s sensitivity to an ethical situation provides the material basis upon which one makes ethical judgments and chooses courses of action.As part of an NSF sponsored project, we have developed and validated a role orientation inventory for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) researchers and a test of an individual’s ethical sensitivity to situations involving the responsible conduct of research (RCR). Our role orientation inventory instrument is an adaptation and extension of previous instruments that were originally designed with professionals in mind. We have created an instrument appropriate to the role of a STEM researcher. Our ethical sensitivity instrument embodies an innovative approach toward measuring ethical sensitivity that relies upon comparing an individual’s ethical sensitivity to situations involving RCR with his or her ethical sensitivity to common, everyday ethical situations.In order to prepare for the final study that will be the culmination of our NSF grant project and to further validate the instruments that we have designed, we have conducted a study designed to examine the relationships between a STEM researcher’s role orientation and his or her ethical sensitivity to RCR. As ethical sensitivity is considered to be the bedrock of ethical behavior,understanding the relationships between a STEM researcher’s role orientation and ethical sensitivity to RCR is an important step in understanding the psychology behind Stem-researchers’ behavior with respect to RCR. But it also illuminates aspects of ethical behavior that ethics educators should take into account and suggests possibilities of new approaches that ethics educators can take toward forming responsible researchers. For instance, if there is correlation between a STEM researcher’s role orientation and his or her ethical sensitivity to RCR, then it is important that ethics educators explore the possibility of developing pedagogical methods for influencing researcher’s role orientation in order to enhance their ethical sensitivity to RCR.

Publication Title

2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition