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Ethical supervisors are the elusive spark of students’ prosocial behaviour

Friday, 17 March 2017


Nurturing ethical values and promoting prosocial behaviour among university graduates could make the world a better place for everyone. According to social learning theory, individuals learn from credible role models. To validate this theory in the context of higher education, Dr Mehran Nejati from ECU’s School of Business and Law and Dr Azadeh Shafaei from Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) examined whether ethical supervisors could lead by example and positively influence the behaviour of their students.

Building on the leader-follower relationship, findings of this quantitative study using 240 students provided empirical support to this conjecture. Their research shows that ethical supervision in universities can foster prosocial behaviour among students. This ensures that universities will prepare graduates to be world-ready through emulating ethical and social values.

Findings of this study indicate that ethical supervisors stimulate prosocial behaviours in students through emphasis on disciplining students, discussing academic ethics and values with them, and setting an example of how to do the right thing, while having the best interests of students in mind.

For example, working with an ethical supervisor encourages a student to show greater empathy for others without the need to be recognised or publicised (e.g., providing guidance to other students without getting any credit for, helping a stranger when no one is looking).

Dr Nejati said that students working with ethical supervisors were more willing to help others in emotion-evoking situations (e.g., showing sympathy to a student who has failed an assignment, providing support to a student who is feeling down) or when asked for help.

The research was led by Dr Mehran Nejati (School of Business and Law, Edith Cowan University) and Dr Azadeh Shafaei (Australian Council for Educational Research - ACER). Learn more about Dr Nejati’s research on the School of Business and Law’s staff page.

Leading by example: the influence of ethical supervision on students’ prosocial behavior was published in the journal of Higher Education.


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