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Ethics in the Classroom

Teaching Ethics to Undergraduate Psychology Students


This site is a centralized resource for faculty who want to incorporate the teaching of ethics into the undergraduate psychology curriculum. It does not include information regarding the ethics of teaching, academic integrity or information ethics (plagiarism, fraud, etc.).


This resource was created with support from the APS Fund for Teaching and Public Understanding of Psychological Science, 2012-2013, and Alvernia University Faculty Excellence grants.


All links were fully functional at the time of publication. 


If you have comments or suggestions for additions, contact Ana Ruiz (Ana.Ruiz@Alvernia.edu) or Judith Warchal (Judith.Warchal@Alvernia.edu).



Activities Guide: Teaching Ethics in the Introduction to Psychology Course (2013)

from the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology (OTRP): 


Integrating Ethics Across Core Psychology Courses


In social psychology, topics might include how group dynamics in decision making and social factors affect attitudes about ethical issues. In cognitive psychology, biases in human reasoning processes can be applied to understanding how ethical reasoning and behavior could be affected. In developmental psychology, maturation of empathic perspective-taking can be studied in terms of effects on ethical reasoning and behavior.


Focusing on ethics in academic work (e.g, plagiarism), research, and clinical or counseling work is important, but ethics in a psychological context can include any psychological topic that can overlap with ethics. Ethical reasoning and behavior are largely psychological and social phenomena; ethics and psychology are by their nature related. By studying how ethics and psychology inter-relate, students would learn not only how to be ethical researchers, scholars, teachers, counselors, but also how psychological processes affect ethical reasoning and behavior -- perhaps contributing to their own ethical development. 


(Al Tuskenis via PsychTeacher listserv)


Syllabi from Ethics Courses

(OTRP Project Syllabus)

Discussion Topics

The Case of the YouTube Assignment - Do You See an Ethical Dilemma? (A professor offers an optional YouTube video assignment. Students were to create a video that demonstrates observational learning. Nearly 20% of the student videos involved students tricking innocent bystanders in public. More details in a blog post here)


Ethics in the News (Falsification of information, the ethics of grading, and Wikileaks. More details in a blog post here)


A Bad Day for Ethics (A Harvard student engages in multiple forms of academic dishonesty. More details in a blog post here)


10 Principles for Teaching Ethics (and Lots of Other Stuff)

A Blueprint for Good Teaching Decisions

(Originally published on February 16, 2012 by Mitchell M. Handelsman, Ph.D. in The Ethical Professor) 


Professors face lots of decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. Here are ten of my guiding principles that I shared with the students in our graduate course: "Ethics and Professional Issues in Psychology." Most of these principles are suitable for just about any college course.

I reproduce the principles from my syllabus without commentary. See what you think:


Some Guiding Principles For Learning Professional Ethics (and Learning In General)

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does represent major values, assumptions, and applications of research findings that I try to actualize as I design and implement this course.


I have reasons for everything I do. Feel free to ask me why I'm doing what I'm doing.


  1. Ethics is best taught in an atmosphere of trust, support, and aspiration. Fear (of lawsuits, complaints, etc.) doesn't work as well.
  2. Ethics is a knowledge-based set of skills, not a personality trait.
  3. Ethics skills include self-reflection, application, and integration.
  4. Knowledge is relatively easy to attain, skills are not; skills take practice to develop.
  5. The only way to learn is to work at it, and the best way to do work is to play. Play means things like: (a) not worrying so much about being perfect or correct (especially at the beginning), (b) bringing positive emotions into the process, (c) trying lots of ways to approach a problem, (d) expending effort in a positive way, and (e) having a more open mind.
  6. Information from books and other writing is neither simple nor self-evident. Meaning comes from the active processing of information. Thus, we must construct knowledge and meaning-we cannot passively absorb them.
  7. Reading with the intent to learn and to write is different—and more productive—than reading with the intent to finish reading.
  8. Writing is a form of thinking and constructing knowledge.
  9. Having thoughts doesn't really matter if you cannot communicate them effectively. 
  10. In higher education, significant learning takes place outside of class; class time can be used to practice skills and test out what we've learned.


(Content above originally published on February 16, 2012 by Mitchell M. Handelsman, Ph.D. in The Ethical Professor)


Movies to Demonstrate Ethical Dilemmas

See the complete ToPIX Movie List here


Concept                                                                                                                  Movie Title (Year)  Director  Link to Movie Description  Contributor  Contributor Comments 
Ethical dilemmas in therapy  Good Will Hunting (1997)  Gus Van Sant  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119217/plotsummary  Liz Nelson  Therapist is violent with client. Therapist self-discloses. 
Ethical dilemmas in research  Ghostbusters (1984)  Ivan Reitman  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087332/plotsummary  Liz Nelson  At the beginning of the movie: experimenter violates principle of fairness. Lies when attractive female answers incorrectly and not shocked. Male shocked when answers correctly. 


Sources on Ethics


Anderson, S.K., & Handelsman, M.M. (2009). Ethics for psychotherapists and counselors: A proactive approach. Wiley.


Keith-Spiegel, P., Whitley, B. E., Jr., Balough, D. W., Perkins, D. V., & Wittig, A. F. (2002) The ethics of teaching: A casebook (2nd ed). Mahwah, NJ: LEA. (Claudia Stanny via PsychTeacher listserv)


Whitley, B. E., Jr., & Keith-Spiegel, P. (2002). Academic dishonesty: An educator's guide. Mahwah, NJ: LEA (Claudia Stanny via PsychTeacher listserv) 


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