Business Ethics & Neuroscience

Diana C. Robertson, James T. Riady Professor, Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics, is the faculty member responsible for leading the Business Ethics & Neuroscience Pillar of the Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research.  The Zicklin Center supports research that integrates the knowledge base and analytical methods of cognitive neuroscience into the study of ethical decision-making in business. This multidisciplinary approach creates continuity between normative ethics and descriptive ethics through the study of the cognitive processes underlying ethical decision-making in business.

This program area is composed of three distinct and interrelated streams of business ethics inquiry: i) research on individual differences in the cognitive processes underlying ethical decision-making; ii) investigation of the impact of organizational and contextual factors on individual ethical decision-making and behavior; and iii) the study of perceptions of corporate ethics and social responsibility initiatives. Specific topics include: Brain structures and functions that support ethical reasoning; brain structures and functions that help define normative judgment; gender, culture and personality variables affecting ethical reasoning; the relationship between risk-taking and ethical decision-making; the relationship between emotion and ethical decision-making, and individual responses to corporate social responsibility programs.

The Zicklin Center aims to advance the contribution of cognitive neuroscience to the field of business ethics by bringing together and integrating the contributions of researchers from a broad selection of disciplines. The Zicklin Center carries out its aim by, among other things, organizing workshops and conferences for scholars to discuss their work.

Research Papers


Yu Pan, Zhuo Fang, Sihua Xu, Li Gao, Diana C. Robertson, and Hengyi Rao, “Risk Choice and Emotional Experience: A Multi-level Comparison between Active and Passive Decision-making,” Journal of Risk Research, in press, 2017.

Wi Hoon Jung, Kristin Prehn, Zhuo Fang, Marc Korczykowski, Joseph W. Kable, Hengyi Rao, Diana C. Robertson (2016), Moral Competence and Brain Connectivity: A Resting-State fMRI StudyNeuroImage, 141, pp. 408-415.

Philip M. Nichols and Diana C. RobertsonThinking About Bribery: Neuroscience, Moral Cognition, and Psychology of Bribery (forthcoming) (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Diana C. Robertson, Post-conventional Moral Reasoning is Associated with Increased Ventral Striatal Activity at Rest and During Task, 2017.

Diana C. Robertson, Christian Voegtlin, Thomas Maak (2016), Business Ethics: The Promise of NeuroscienceJournal of Business Ethics.

Nina Strohminger, (2017), The Role of Moral Beliefs, Memories, and Preference in Representations of Identity.  Cognitive Science, 41(3), 744-767.

Nina Strohminger, (2015), Neurodegeneration and Identity, Psychological Science, 26(9), 1468-1479.


Decision Making and Bribery Workshop
June 6-7, 2013
The Wharton School, Philadelphia

Gregory Berns, Emory University; Cristina Bicchieri,  University of Pennsylvania; Raymond Fisman, Columbia University; Joseph Harrington, University of Pennsylvania; William Laufer, University of Pennsylvania; Sunita Sah, Georgetown University; Andrew Samuel, Loyola University, Maryland; Lisa Shu, Northwestern University; Linda Trevino, Pennsylvania State University; Liane Young, Boston College; Paul Zak, Claremont Graduate University

Decision Making and Bribery Workshop

Corruption shapes the world. Some governments exist because of it, some will collapse under its weight.  Corruption mobilizes the protests and motivates the opposition of millions, while millions more suffer its inequities.  Corruption distorts the flow of the world’s resources and its capital and renders markets dysfunctional. Bribery is the most visible and most frequently studied form of corruption. The Zicklin Center brings scholars from disciplines such as cognitive neuroscience, psychology, behavioral economics, and organizational behavior.  Many of these scholars also bring a business or business ethics perspective to this research.  The application of these sciences, particularly cognitive neuroscience, to moral or ethical decisions is relatively new.