Ethical characteristics of whistle blowers

Mary Brabeck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thirty-two undergraduates participated in a confederate-peer study of "whistle blowing" behavior. Using J. R. Rest's (1979, Revised Manual for the Defining Issues Test, Minneapolis, Minnesota Moral Research Projects) Defining Issues Test as a measure of moral reasoning subjects were determined to be at conventional or principled levels of moral reasoning. Subjects individually read an article authored by the professor-investigator and answered questions about the article on a multiple choice test. A confederate-peer pointed out predesigned errors in the article to each subject. In treatment I the confederate referred to an article in The American Psychologist to point out discrepancies in information. In treatment II she referred to a typed transcript of the same article; authorship was ambiguous. Subjects who "blew the whistle" on the professor's errors, e.g., pointed out the discrepancies to the investigator, were found to be significantly different in level of moral reasoning from those who did not (p = .025). These differences remained when grade point average, assertiveness scores, and sex of subject were statistically controlled. There was no difference in behavior of subjects in treatment I and treatment II. Subjects' stated reasons for blowing the whistle or not blowing the whistle are summarized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-53
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Research in Personality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Psychology


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