In a slight segue, I was reading Bruce Schneier’s blog on security and came across this post on the psychology behind fraud. Bruce points to this post on why, yes I know, ‘good people do bad things’. The explanation that researchers such as Ann Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame offer is that in the same way that we are boundedly rational in other aspects of decision making so to are our ethical decisions.
In particular, the way in which decision problems were framed seems to have a great impact upon how we make decisions. Basically if a problem was framed without an ethical dimension then decision makers were much less likely to consider that aspect.
Additionally to framing effects, researchers found in studying collusion in fraud cases most people seem to act from an honest desire simply to help others, regardless of any attendant ethical issues.
What fascinates me is how closely such research parallels the work in system safer and human error. Clearly if management works within a frame based upon performance and efficiency, they are simply going to overlook the down side completely, and in a desire to be helpful why everyone else ‘goes along for the ride’.
There is as I see it a concrete recommendation that come out of this research that we can apply to safety; that fundamentally safety management systems need to be designed to take account of of our weaknesses as boundedly rational actors.