Ethics and Social Justice Issues in a Psychology Research Methods Course

Dalia L. Diab, PhD
Mentor: David J. Burns, DBA (Marketing)

Course Information
Research Methods and Design II is the second methods course in the research methods sequence offered by the Department of Psychology. The course objectives are to help students:

1. Solidify their understanding of the scientific process and the importance of sound methodology.
2. Further understand and apply the basic concepts, principles, and issues relevant to psychological research.
3. Further develop the skills necessary to think critically and to critically evaluate research.
4. Further develop the skills necessary to design and conduct research studies.
5. Further develop the skills necessary to write research papers in APA style.
6. Develop the skills necessary to present findings of research studies orally and in poster format.

Changes Implemented in the Course
Changes that were implemented in the Methods II class as part of the Ignatian Mentoring Program related to two topics: ethics and social justice. The topic of ethics is extremely relevant to a Jesuit education, and it is also extremely important in a psychology research methods class; therefore, the first two changes that were made related to ethics. Social justice is another topic that is relevant to a Jesuit education. Therefore, the third change that was implemented related to this topic.

Change #1: Requiring Students to Write a Reaction Paper on an Ethics Chapter
Students in this class are expected to write four reaction papers on four different chapters from a critical thinking in psychology textbook (Sternberg, Roediger, & Halpern, 2007). When this class was previously taught, students could have written a reaction paper on the chapter on ethics (Critical Thinking and Ethics in Psychology), but they were not required to do so. Therefore, the first change was requiring students to write a reaction paper on the ethics chapter.

The students wrote thoughtful reaction papers, making it clear that they understood the importance of being ethical psychologists.

Below are quotes from the students' reaction papers:

  •  Perhaps the biggest thing that I took away from this chapter is that while there are many wrong answers in ethical situations, it takes much discernment and critical thinking to access correct answers in ethically complicated situations.
  • Ethical decision-making requires creativity, analysis, and problem solving skills. A psychologist must consider what his or her actions mean for all of the stakeholders. It is vital that psychologists know their limits and their areas of expertise and do not practice in areas that they are unqualified to work in.
  • Psychologists should be committed to doing what is moral, foresee unethical situations, collect relevant information to the task, and consult with colleagues about decision making.
  • ...the very first point is to decide to be a moral person, no matter what. I find that it is very telling that this is the first guideline before any decisions or possible alternatives are made for it speaks clearly that the most important thing is to be ethical and moral.
  • A psychologist must consider what his or her actions mean for all of the stakeholders. It is vital that psychologists know their limits and their areas of expertise and do not practice in areas that they are unqualified to work in. Doing so would hinder their trustworthiness and their effectiveness at treating the client would be poor, if not harmful.
  • The ethical dilemmas that come up in various situations have no true set of rules to follow, but the judgment is based on the psychologist's ability to make his or her own decisions in respect to others.
  • Critical thinking skills and analyzing alternatives for difficult scenarios is an important process in ethical decision making for psychologists.
  • In order for critical thinking about ethical issues to be effective, psychologists must have the motivation to be ethical.
  • It is necessary for psychologists to put aside their judgments when thinking critically.
  • There are many situations in which psychologists face ethical dilemmas, and it is important for them to know the APA rules and regulations to help face and solve these dilemmas. They must know and commit to moral values in order to practice ethically. Psychologists must take the appropriate steps to solve ethical dilemmas.

Change #2: Adding an Ethics Assignment
The second change was adding an ethics assignment that asked students to view videos about a study replicating Milgram's classic obedience experiment (which had several ethical issues). Students had to write a reaction paper on that study.

Below is the ethics assignment handout that was given to students:

Please go to the following websites to view 3 videos relating to a study that was conducted, replicating Milgram's original experiment:

After viewing the videos, please write a reaction paper on the study, focusing on the "ethical" issues surrounding the study. Your reaction paper should be thoughtful, intelligent, and well-written (coherent, grammatically correct, etc.). Your paper should be approximately one single-spaced (or two double-spaced) typed pages.

Be sure to address the following points in your reaction paper:

1. Briefly summarize the study you viewed
2. Comment on the "ethical" issues relevant to this study, emphasizing the APA Code of Ethics that you learned about in this class and in Research Methods and Design I--be specific when you mention the APA ethical principles and standards, focusing on the ones that you feel are most relevant in this specific situation
3. Comment on how learning about "ethics" is relevant to a Jesuit education

The students wrote thoughtful reaction papers, showing that they understood the importance of ethics in psychology, and that they understood why being ethical is relevant to a Jesuit education.

    Below are quotes from the students' reaction papers:

  • Ethics are an essential part of a Jesuit education. Xavier's mission statement says that Jesuit institutions should provide their students with, "a world view that is oriented to responsible action and recognizes the intrinsic value of the natural and human values."
  • A Jesuit education focuses on educating the whole person so that graduates achieve career goals, but also make the world a better, more ethical place.
  • ... Jesuits believe that honesty and integrity play a key role in being successful in, not only the life of a college student but in life after school as well. An extremely important factor in ethics is the role that honesty and integrity play in allowing psychologists to be successful in their careers.
  • Exploring the ethical component of any given situation is an extremely important part of the Jesuit tradition of "men and women for others." Living for others requires one to have the best interest of someone else in mind...
  • Learning ethics is important for any field but especially psychology because it is so intimately linked with people and the core of personhood. Therefore, in the Jesuit tradition, if we are to be men and women for others, then we need to make sure that the dignity and well being of every single person is clear and is protected.
  • Ethics and justice are main goals of a Jesuit education. While academics and a liberal arts background build the foundation for a Jesuit education, there is also a strong focus on service and ethics. Jesuits believe in being "men and women with and for others," which means that science is only beneficial if it is to the benefit of the larger community.
  • Jesuit education tries to educate students by instilling in them values so that they may do their work to help all people and society while being sensitive to diversity. Jesuit tradition believes in service to others, all people being treated equal, and doing work to benefit others in a moral way.
  • As a student in the psychology department, it is important to see how the values of Jesuit tradition pertain to the field of psychology, which is best seen in the APA's ethical principles and by discussing ethical and unethical situations.
  • The Jesuits' desire to create a learning experience that has the interest of maximizing the good in society is directly relevant to the Human Rights, and Beneficence and Nonmaleficence principles in the APA Code of Conduct. Both instill a desire for and dedication toward the need for human equality...
  • ...learning about ethics and how they relate to psychology is important to a Jesuit tradition as well as to one's studies in psychology because Jesuits strive for equal treatment of all people.

Change #3: Adding a Social Justice Assignment
The third and last change was adding a social justice assignment. Students were asked to read an article that dealt with a social justice issue (specifically, gender inequality in the workplace; Stephens & Levine, 2011), and they had to write a reaction paper on the article.

Below is the social justice assignment handout that was given to students:

Please read the following article, which is posted on Blackboard:

Stephens, N. M., & Levine, C. S. (2011). Opting out or denying discrimination? How the
framework of free choice in American society influences perceptions of gender inequality. Psychological Science, 22, 1231-1236.

After reading the article, please write a reaction paper, making sure to address the following points:

  • Briefly summarize the article (there are two studies, so make sure to address both in your summary)
  • After defining what social justice is (you may have to find other resources to address this part), comment on the main social justice issue relevant to this article
  • Comment on other important issues relevant to social justice (you may also have to find other resources to address this part)
  • Comment on how learning about social justice is relevant to a Jesuit education

Please keep in mind that your reaction paper should be thoughtful, intelligent, and well-written (coherent, grammatically correct, etc.). Your paper should be approximately one single-spaced (or two double-spaced) typed pages."

Once again, the students wrote thoughtful reaction papers, showing that they understood the importance of social justice and how it relates to a Jesuit education.

Below are quotes from the students' reaction papers:

  • I think it is important at a Jesuit university to learn about social justice because it upholds the ideals of the university to be aware and active about societal issues in our world.
  • To be true men and women for others, there is a need to be aware of the problems around us, to not be ignorant of the issues, and to work for the equality and dignity of all.
  • The foundation of a Jesuit education is teaching students to be "men and women for others." A large part of this is working to create systems that provide everyone with the ability to achieve their potential. If we rely on service, the same social issues will prevail. Thus, as true men and women for others, we have to work for systemic change.
  • The Jesuit education is meant to produce men and women for others. Social justice is an imperative part of the process of becoming one who lives for others. To live for others one must be aware of others' needs.
  • Learning about social justice is relevant to a Jesuit education because Jesuit education instills values in their students so that they may help all people and society.
  • Jesuit education believes in being sensitive to diversity and treating all people equally. This is exactly what social justice is about. Jesuit values are to service others and to benefit society so that it is just and fair.
  • A Jesuit education calls the student to be aware of and recognize social justice issues in their community and across the world. As a community that promotes service to others, it is especially important to remember equality when serving.
  • In relation to a Jesuit education, it should emphasize speaking up for those who do not have voices and teaching students effective strategies for facing issues like these.
  • Jesuit universities strive for their students to be active in the community and can generate compassion for issues by educating students which will motivate them to be activists for what they believe.
  • The concept of social justice is directly relevant to the components of a Jesuit education. Jesuit education seeks to educate the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, and create men and women for and with others. To do this Xavier and other Jesuit schools have a core curriculum that incorporate concepts like social justice and the inequalities that still exist in our country and world.

In conclusion, these changes seem to have had the intended impact of making the Jesuit principles of ethics and social justice more salient to psychology students. It was clear that the students were able to integrate aspects of their Jesuit education into a psychology research methods course. After completing this class, students should now be able to better appreciate the interplay between Jesuit values and psychological research.

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Introduction to Social Psychology - Development of a Jesuit Identification Measure and a Sense of Becoming "Women and Men for Others"

Christian M. End, Ph.D.
Mentor: Ginger McKenzie, Ph.D.


A primary purpose of PSYC 261 is to introduce students to the basic concepts, theories, and research in the field of Social Psychology with the hope that the students will be able to apply the content to aid in their understanding of social interactions. While "Walking Ignatian" themes were incorporated into multiple chapters, (i.e., Behavior and Attitudes, Aggression, etc.), the activities associated with the Social Self-concept and Altruism chapters will be the focus of this report.

Objective 1:

Critically consider what it means to claim the social identities of "Xavier Student" and "a student at a Jesuit institution". Additionally, modify pre-existing social identity measures to gain an understanding of the students' understanding of the "Xavier Student" and "Jesuit Identity".

Identification Activity:

Incorporated into a week of lectures, readings, and discussion of the social self, students were divided into dyads (in some cases groups of three students) and asked to generate an agreed upon schema for "Xavier Student". A spokesperson representing each small group presented the created schema, after which the class as a whole discussed common emerging themes. The characteristics/attributes of the "Xavier Student" included service, Catholic, politically involved, partiers, higher socioeconomic status, open-mindedness, and well rounded were prominent.

The groups then used the same process to generate schemas for the "Jesuit Identity". The characteristics/ attributes of the "Jesuit Student" included service, spiritually, focus on continual education, respect for all, valuing and contributing to a sense of community, global responsibility, and holding high academic expectations. The students concluded that although there were indeed commonalities across identities (i.e. service), it was possible for these identities to develop independently of each other.

After completing the open-end portion of the activity, students were presented 55 items taken from a variety of social identity measures. Dyads were asked to indicate those items that they felt would be valid measures of a "Xavier Student" identity as well as items that would be indicators of the "Jesuit Identity". Agreement between more than 75% of the dyads resulted in the item's inclusion in the measure.

The students completed both the "XU Student" identity measure (see Table 1) and the "Jesuit Identity" measure (see Table 2). Providing empirical evidence for the students' conclusions mentioned above, scores on the "XU Student" identity measure were positively correlated to the scores on the "Jesuit Identity" measure, r (19) = 0.49, p < .05. Thus, the more one identified as being a "Xavier Student", the higher one scored on the "Jesuit Identity" measure.

Table 1: Student Created Measure of "XU Student" Identity

Agreement Items:

I am proud to be a Xavier student.
I am a Xavier student.
As a whole, Xavier students are united.
There is a feeling of unity among persons who are Xavier students.
I am glad I am a Xavier student.
Being a Xavier student is an important part of my self-identity.
Overall, I am proud to be a Xavier student.

Personal Characteristics:


Note: Cronbach's alpha = 0.87

Table 2: Student Created Measure of "Jesuit Identity"

Agreement Items:

Those who endorse Jesuit values can always count on each other.
Being someone who endorses Jesuit values is important to the way I view myself.
There is a feeling of unity among persons who endorse Jesuit values.
Being a person who endorses Jesuit values is an important part of my self-identity.
Overall, I am proud to be a person who endorses Jesuit values.

Personal Characteristics:

Respects authority
Law Abiding
Lives by principles
Likes to worship
Prays often
Goes to church
Depends on God
Knows a lot about religion
Shows respect for sacred things
Active in the church
Devoted to my religion
Strong beliefs
Believes in higher power
Tries to know and please God

Note: Cronbach's alpha = 0.93

Objective 2:

Complete an altruism assignment that includes hands-on volunteering and a reflection paper that compares/ contrasts social psychological and Ignatian analysis of these altruistic activities.

Altruism Activity:

Over the course of the semester, students were required to spend at least one hour of their time volunteering. After completing the altruism activity, students composed an application paper analyzing their experiences from a social psychological perspective. The students were also encouraged to address how the Jesuit perspective of altruism compares/contrasts to social psychological perspective.

Students' volunteer experiences were diverse. Some students spent a week long alternative break preparing a summer camp for children with AIDS, while others spent a couple of hours working at a homeless shelter. Many students tutored young children, while others spent time socializing with the elderly. (For a list of volunteer activities/locations, please see table 3).

Table3: Volunteer Locations/Activities

Alternative Break
Battered Women's Shelter
Danville Elementary
Drop Inn Center Freestore Foodbank
Mercy Works
Our Daily Bread
Pregnancy Center
Nativity Academy
Saint Gertrude (babysitting)
Saint Vincent de Paul
Senior Citizens, Inc
Sherwood Elementary Carnival
S. Avondale Stopped with Roman
Umbrella Family Child Care
Winton Woods
R.C. Hindsdale School


Included below are excerpts from the students' application papers.

"The altruism assignment that I chose to do was an absolutely amazing, eye opening experience. I learned so much in such a short amount of time. I am looking forward to continuing to educate people about these issues, along with getting involved in more social justice programs at Xavier."

"I believe that if the end result is helping others, the motivations are not extremely important in short-term assisting. However, for a long-term commitment to altruism, a person is more likely to continue helping if they have a sincere concern for others and are not seeking their own internal or external rewards. A Jesuit-based education supports this genuine altruism, and people who volunteer should strive for this attitude when serving."

"Through my experiences at St. Vincent De Paul I have learned that it takes courage and humility to ask for help and admit that you can't do it all by yourself. I also learned the value of persistence. Even when times are tough, people keep going and search for ways to get back on their feet and provide for their family. Volunteering also provided perspective and made me realize that small everyday problems aren't all that bad in the scheme of things and that I should count my blessings. Volunteering is one way I can live up to the Jesuit identity and truly be a woman for others."

"...the Jesuit mission exemplifies the empathy- induced route of altruism. The honest concern for others and serving to better society and focusing on other people and their needs are the key differences between empathy-induced and egotistic-induced altruism. A Jesuit-based education supports this genuine altruism and people who volunteer should strive for this attitude when serving."

"I can sincerely say that going to the Drop Inn Center was an eye-opening experience for me. I love where I am from, but going to the Drop Inn Center made me realize how naïve I am to the world's problems."

"While the two perspectives approach altruism differently, they would both agree that any action taken to better society, whether entirely altruistic or unselfish or not, would greatly help the world in which we live today."

Many students indicated that a parallel exists between social psychology's social responsibility norm and the Jesuit perspective that one develops, "A world view that is oriented to responsible action". Additionally, students noted the discrepancy between the perspectives in that social psychology tends to emphasize the motivation for helping acts. Most students seemed to endorse the following student submitted quote, "the people you are helping don't need your reasons, just your help."


espite being linguistically more demanding than a typical homework assignment, students enjoyed the Altruism Activity and expressed intent to continue helping others, something consistent with the students' Jesuit and Xavier identities.

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Experiencing Ignatian Core Values in Health Psychology: Utilizing "Inspiration" and "Aspiration"

Debra K. Mooney, Ph.D.

Overview of the Sub-field

Over the past 30 years, Health Psychology has become a major subfield of psychology. Health Psychology is one of 56 divisions of the American Psychological Association, psychology's major professional organization. The specialty is defined in the following way: Health Psychology seeks to advance contributions of psychology to the understanding of health and illness through basic and clinical research, education, and service activities and encourages the integration of biomedical information about health and illness with current psychological knowledge.

Departmental Mission Statement

In keeping with the Jesuit, Catholic, liberal arts tradition, the Department of Psychology educates students in the science of behavior and mental processes with sensitivity toward the diversity of all people so students may use psychological knowledge and insight to address human concerns.

Ignatian Mission and Identity Objectives

As part of the annual assessment of college life by XU's Office of Strategic Information Resources, Xavier students (and students at other participating Jesuit universities) are asked the following questions during their freshman and senior year in order to obtain students' understanding and experience of Xavier's core values arising from its Jesuit identity: To what extent has your experience at this institution contributed to your development of each of the following?

  1. Understanding the mission of your institution.
  2. Devoting effort to help others in need.
  3. Leading by example.
  4. Increasing your awareness of the relationship between global and ethical issues.
  5. Actively working to further social justice
  6. Defining your own values and beliefs.
  7. Demonstrating respect for other's differences.
  8. Actively working toward a more inclusive community.
  9. Ability to look critically at society and its institutions.
  10. Making ethical decisions in professional situations.
  11. Making ethical decisions in personal situations.
  12. Understanding what it means to be men and women for others.
  13. Making connections between your intellectual and spiritual life.
    (The response scale is: Very much =4, Quite a bit= 3, Some=2, Very little=1)
Teaching Component

As part of the Ethic, Religion and Society's annual lecture series, Paul Farmer, Ph.D., M.D., presented his work, HIV/AIDS Crisis: Research and Advocacy (Community-based Treatment for HIV/AIDS) at Xavier University on April 23, 2007. In preparation, and as part of the course unit on "International Health", students read, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer - A Man Who Would Cure the World (Tracy Kidder, 2003), engaged in multiple small group discussions, and reflected upon and responded, in writing, to the following question:

The goals of this teaching component were to:
  • Facilitate students' understanding and experience of the University's core values in a personally meaningful way.
  • Enhance self-reflection, awareness and insight (a skill critical to professional psychologists and a significant component of Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit education [see Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, 2003 or chapter 4 in Jesuit Saturdays by William Byron, SJ, 2000]).
Quotes from Student Responses

... As I entered into college, I found myself continuing this passion [medicine] through volunteering in children's hospitals and eventually working in the research section of Cincinnati Children's Medical Center. Also, in college I found a way to a new passion of service. Through Alternative Breaks, it opened up a whole new world of opportunities to serve people. My eyes were opened to issues of homelessness and poverty in cities of the United States, and then this was expanded to issues in Ukraine and Jamaica. I found myself wondering about other social justice issues, those of children's issue, healthcare inequality, disabilities, women's issues, etc. Once I was exposed to one issue, I wanted to find a way to deal with each issue.
Senior psychology major, chemistry minor

I have always wanted to be a writer but knew that most people could not make a living on a writer's salary so I abandoned the idea for a different major once I came to college. I also essentially gave up writing because I adopted an "all or nothing" feeling towards it, believing that if I was not going to spend all of my energy on it, I should not spend any on it. However, seeing how Farmer seems to successfully balance his job and his passion rekindled the idea that perhaps I could be a writer - in whatever free time I can find. Psychology may be my job but writing is definitely my passion so I pulled out the novel that I started a year ago and wrote twenty more pages on it over the last break. I am still unsure whether I will ever have the nerve to get it published but at least I can still continue writing for the joy of writing.
Senior psychology and finance major

Farmer's experience showed me that you must use the talents that God gave you.... My talents of empathy and insight are the reasons I chose psychology.
Junior psychology major, philosophy minor

Farmer's story has taught me so many things, first of all reinforcing my desire to go into the helping field. My goal is to study social work and become a therapist. I want to help people by letting them know that someone is there for them and will listen to their problems. Just as Farmer corrected my misconceptions about poverty and disease, I too want to help with other's misconceptions. I want to be a mediator for others, allowing them to educate one another through their miscommunications. I feel things such as miscommunication will only lead to ruin, so someone needs to act and help them.
Junior psychology major

My understanding is that we are all born into certain lives that we don't always have control over, but I also believe that we were born into certain lives for a reason. Am I better than a Haitian born into poverty? Am I lesser than a European born into royalty? Perhaps the question shouldn't be who is better or more deserving of certain rights and amenities, but instead we need to ask what is that all human beings should be entitled to. As is mentioned in MBM, all human beings should be entitled to proper living conditions: clean water, food, shelter, clean air, and proper health care. If we are blessed enough to be given these things at birth, shouldn't we work to ensure that others also are provided with these essentials?
Senior psych. major, gender & diversity studies minor

I know that I have a few gifts. I am compassionate, I am analytical, I am empathetic, and I am outgoing. I know I have a few weaknesses. I am lethargic, I am pessimistic (in viewing myself), I am doubtful of myself. I also have a few traits that I am not sure are helpful or hurtful. I am easy going, I am fun, I am highly based on the here-and-now, and I am sarcastic. I know that I have everything necessary to be a successful person; I just do not know what it is that I am going to be successful at. .... I know that I can be a source of guidance for people. Coaching has allowed me to be that lifeline or that safety net for some people.
Junior psychology major

As a student at Xavier, I have had the privilege to receive an education concerning the many branches of structural violence and its victims and, consequently, have chosen to remember the images of the poor instead of living in the ignorance that my actions do not directly affect those who are suffering.
Senior psych. major, natural sci. and Spanish minor

It has always been difficult for me to express my emotions, as I was taught to keep them inside like the rest of my family. Farmer has made me rethink the manner in which I express my emotions, which is often not at all. In the future, I would like to be able to open up more to people, especially to those that are important in my life.
Senior psych. major, gender & diversity studies minor

[Recently] I was juggling my schoolwork and helping my mother take care of her father who was very ill. I spent much of the last month helping my mother because family has always been something that has meant a lot to me. I decided that my grandfather needed my undivided attention because he was so critically ill. I spent almost everyday helping my mother take care of him because I felt like it was something that I needed to do. Almost everyday my grandfather and I would talk about sports and then he wanted to know if I had decided yet where I was going to go to law school. My grandfather was so proud because he already had one lawyer in the family and he was on his way to having another one. He knew that I was happiest when I was helping others. We got the call that no one ever wants to get, my grandfather had passed away. As I continue on with my life, I look back to the conversations I had with my grandfather in the last month of his life. I will never forget his words about the fact that I would be a great lawyer because I had more ambition than anyone he knew at the age of twenty-two. Between the words of my grandfather and Farmer, I have been inspired to help people in the only way I know how, to be there for them in a time of need.
Senior political science major, psychology minor

I put my family before everything else in my life. I was raised to believe that your family is the only support system you will have for the entirety of your life....I hope that when I get married, my wife will be a major part of everything that I do; including every decision that needs to be made regarding our family. I also want to be a major part of the raising of my children. I cannot imagine leaving my children in their beginning years when they are learning everything about the world. This is the time when they learn to trust and value people and I hope to be there for this important stage in their lives.
Junior psychology major

I, like most people, am guilty of making assumptions about people, just because he or she is different.....just because someone acts differently than I would act in the same situation, does not mean that we are unlike each other in every aspect.
Junior psychology major

...I can see myself as a person who chooses a career focused upon passion, vocation, and selflessness. Farmer's life has helped inspire me to realize where true happiness in life lies. His works have made me realize that I should follow my passions, I should find a career that I enjoy, and that I should make the world a better place.
Junior psychology major, English minor

The absolute most important lesson I learned from Farmer's story is that the only thing that can hold me back is inaction.
Senior psychology major

Student Feedback

I'll remember how the International Health unit challenged me to evaluate my priorities/goals in my future career and service to others.

The reflection paper was a great way to incorporate my thoughts about the book with my life.

It is important to take the time to look at how things affect your own life. It was really great to write the paper.

I liked the paper because it is good to be asked, "What about you?" in some courses.

I enjoyed writing the paper because it really made me think about what I'd like to do with my life.

The reflection paper was a good follow-up to reading the book. It allowed expression of opinions, reactions, and considerations. It was a nice open-ended subject.

The reflection paper was good because it gives us the chance to respond to the book and evaluate our own goals, etc.

Farmer was just one person that affected so many people. I learned that if you have a drive to do something - then it can be done.

I liked the paper because it helps individuals reflect and learn about themselves.

The paper helped tie up our thoughts about the book in regards to our own lives. It made me think critically about the book and Paul Farmer's life while also looking at my life in the past and future.

The book combined with Farmer's presentation and my personal reflections - was really an inspirational/ educational aspect of this course.

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Infusing Personal Discernment into PSYC 200 - Orientation to the Major 

Tammy L. Sonnentag, Ph.D. 
Mentor: Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, Ph.D. 

The School of Psychology at Xavier University serves the following mission: “In keeping with the Jesuit, Catholic, liberal arts tradition, the School of Psychology educates students in the science of behavior and mental processes with sensitivity toward the diversity of all people so students may use psychological knowledge and insight to address human concerns” (School of Psychology, 2016). As part of this mission, students who major in psychology are required to complete a one-credit hour course called “Orientation to the Major.” The primary aims of this course are to expose students to career options in psychology and encourage students to begin building a network of professional relationships in the field. As a part of the Orientation to the Major course, student are asked to meaningfully reflect on psychology as their chosen major and identify possible (and, potentially the “best”) career paths for their abilities, strengths, values, and experiences. Given the nature of the course, teaching students about Personal Discernment from the Ignatian tradition should enhance their ability to make important career choices, as a reflection of their strengths and weaknesses, emotions, and desires – thereby promoting Xavier’s mission in the hearts, minds, and actions of the students.

Making a career decision may be one of the most important yet daunting decisions in one’s lifetime (Jiang, 2014). The Ignatian Tradition offers (at least) one exercise that may meaningfully enhance individuals’ confidence in their career-related decisions: personal discernment. Personal discernment involves being open to God’s spirit as individuals examine their thoughts and feelings to, ultimately, make decisions that are good for themselves and the world around them (Peck & Stick, 2008).  Therefore, teaching students about personal discernment should increase their confidence to competently and successfully make career decisions (i.e., engage in self-appraisals of abilities/skills, collect occupational information, solve problems, identify career goals, and appropriately plan for the future; Betz et al., 1996; Jiang, 2014).

Personal discernment, from the Ignatian tradition, was identified to infuse into Psyc 200 – Orientation to the Major (here forward referred to as Psyc 200) because students likely do not understand nor use (and may, subsequently, benefit from) personal discernment when making career-related decisions, and they should be intentionally instructed on this process. The two goals associated with infusing personal discernment into Psyc 200 included promoting students’ achievement of “Ignatian Indifference” (i.e., a state of inner freedom, openness, and balance that allows individuals to openly and equally consider all options) as they explore their careers options and interests, and to help students achieve “Ignatian Consolation” (i.e., peace between cognitions [pros and cons of choices] and emotions [feelings accompany our cognitions]) when making decisions about their career options and interests. The Ignatian tradition suggests that when cognitions and emotions are concordant, individuals will experience “peace” with a (career-related) decision, and can meaningfully act on the decision. Whereas, when cognitions and emotions are disconcordant, individuals feel uneasy, agitated, or even anxious (i.e., desolation) about a decision and should continue to reflect.  Given that Ignatian Indifference and Ignatian Consolation may aid students in their search for, or pursuit of, psychology-related careers, respectively, the current project attempted to infuse personal discernment into students’ career considerations.  Psychology majors, enrolled in one section of Psyc 200, were invited to learn about and engage in personal discernment from the Ignatian tradition. Students in two control conditions, a second section of Psyc 200 (a course-relevant control) and a section of Psyc 221 – Research Methods and Design I (a course-irrelevant control) did not learn about or engage in personal discernment.

Method and Procedure

            Using a short-term, mixed-methods, longitudinal design, 41 undergraduate students (n =18 Personal Discernment condition) were invited to complete an online questionnaire near the beginning and end of the spring 2016 semester.  This questionnaire assessed the students’ Xavier Identity (End, 2012), Jesuit Identity (End, 2012), Understanding of the Psychology Major (Adapted from Dillinger & Landrum, 2002 and Thomas & McDaniel, 2004), and Career Decision Self-Efficacy/Self-Confidence (Betz et al., 1996). Students were asked to rate each item on the questionnaire using a scale that ranged from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree).

Throughout the spring semester, students in the personal discernment section of Psyc 200 engaged in six activities that attempted to infuse personal discernment into the course to, ultimately, promote Ignatian Indifference and Ignatian Consolation in students’ decision making about their career options and pursuits.  The activities included short reading and writing assignments, small group or partner discussions, lecture information, guest speakers (e.g., Angela Gray-Girton, Center for Faith and Justice), and a “speed networking” activity.  Specifically, one reading and writing assignment asked students to read the “Seven Attitudes or Qualities Required for an Authentic Discernment Process” (see and then respond to five questions (e.g., What aspects of Ignatian decision-making most resonate with your approach to making career-related decisions?; Why would the seven qualities contribute to authentic discernment concerning your career-related decisions?). A second activity asked students to begin building their network of professional relationships, with their peers, by engage in a “speed networking” task.  In pairs, students introduced themselves and engaged in 6-8 minutes of discussion focused on how Xavier’s Jesuit values influence their pursuit of a career in psychology (e.g., What Xavier value [i.e., Reflection, Discernment, Solidarity and Kinship, Service Rooted in Justice and Love, Cura Personlis, Magis] is important to your career development and success?).  Every student discussed each Jesuit value at least once with a different peer colleague and were asked to briefly provide a written summary of their discussion.  A small sampling of students’ responses to these two activities is provided below.  Students’ offered positive feedback on the “Seven Attitudes or Qualities Required for an Authentic Discernment Process” activity, and students’ energy during and excitement for the “speed networking about Jesuit values” activity was inspiring.


Qualitative Results

Students’ responses to the “seven attitudes for an authentic discernment process”

Below is a sampling of students’ responses to the reading and writing assignment concerning the seven qualities and attitudes for an authentic discernment process.

  • “A key contribution of the qualities is to not confuse ends with means. Ignatius points to the idea that people often only think of God as a secondary factor that God is only relevant once their own individual desires are fulfilled. In relation to career-related decisions this would means that one would need to consider God’s presence in the short- and long-term consequences of a decision. This could include making decisions that serve others through using one’s own strengths.  This could also include putting others’ needs first before pursue one’s own riches.”
  • “The seven qualities definitely contribute to authentic discernment because they require a person to take a step back and think about what decision they are making. The choice of career is a big one and a decision that takes a lot of time to make a good whole-hearted decision. Through examining the seven qualities of authentic discernment one is able to make a good decision for his or her own person and will be able to know that they have chosen a path that God would want for him or her. For example, when thinking about my career at this point in my life it is incredibly essential that I take the quality of openness to heart. The amount of career options in today’s society is so great and I feel as though closing myself off to all of the possibilities would be detrimental in my career development process.”
  • “The aspect of Ignatian decision making that I resonate with the best is ensuring the harmony between thoughts and feelings. I have a lot of grand ideas in my head about what I will do in my future career, however I have never tested out whether or not I want to do any of the careers I think I will be good at. I have never tested the feelings I actually feel while having to complete these jobs. I feel as though before I can make a good decision, I need to create harmony among these two aspects, finding something I truly love that I am also good at.”
  • “An aspect of Ignatian decision-making that resonates with me is to not come into a decision making process with attachments. I think it’s good to always be open to new information and ideas regarding career-related decisions. If we think we have all the answers, we will never be able to learn anything new or grow. If we don’t listen to and consider what our opposition has to say, we can’t form a well-rounded or informed opinion.”
  • “Courage is one of the qualities that I believe contributes a lot to my career path. Throughout these past few semesters there has been a lot of work and tough classes, but these challenges are put in front of me as Gods way of pushing me to be a better student and person. Beyond courage, I think that the seven qualities are telling me to be open-minded with my future, really consider the decision I’m going to make, and they’re telling me that it’s good to have goals, but not to forget about all of the help that God is giving me along the way.”

Students’ responses to the “speed networking” focused on Xavier values

Below is a sampling of students’ responses to the in-class speed networking activity focused on Xavier’s Jesuit values.

  • “I want a career I love. I think engaging in personal discernment can help me achieve this feeling. Discernment requires me to give conscious attention to my feelings and thoughts, and discernment may help me find how my passion for psychology fits in the world.”
  • “Love is important to me as a psychology major because it is at the core of why I believe psyc is the right major for me – to give back to my community through my vocation. When we nourish ourselves with love, it inspires others. Spread the love.”
  • “Discernment is very important to my career development and success because the ability to openly consider my own feelings and thoughts allows me to understand my role in helping others.”
  • “Cura personalis is important to my career because trying to understand the whole person, and that each person is unique, shows how differences among people should be appreciated and celebrated.”

Quantitative Results

Students’ responses to the online questionnaire were analyzed using a series of 2 (Time) x 3 (Course) mixed-design ANOVAs, with Time as a repeated-measures variable.  Although students experienced no change in their Xavier Student Identity as a result of learning about personal discernment in Psyc 200, F(2, 38) = 1.03, p = .27, they experienced a significant increase in their Jesuit Identity (see Figure 1) compared to the course control conditions, F (2, 38) = 3.84, p < .05. This finding reveals that infusing personal discernment into Psyc 200 promoted Xavier’s mission in the hearts and minds of the students, as students who learned about personal discernment expressed a stronger Jesuit identity near the end of the spring 2016 semester (than near the beginning of the semester).

Figure 1. Infusing Personal Discernment into Psyc 200 resulted in a significant increase in participants’ expressed Jesuit Identity.

Students enrolled in Psyc 200, regardless of the infusion of personal discernment in to the course, experienced a significant increase in their Understanding of a Psychology Major, F(2, 38) = 3.08, p < .05 (see Figure 2), and Career Decision Self-Efficacy F(2, 38) = 4.27, p < .05, than students in Psyc 221 (course irrelevant control).

Figure 2. Regardless of the infusion of personal discernment in to the course, Psyc 200 students experienced an increase in their Understanding of the Psychology Major (a pattern of results consistent with their Career Decision Self-Efficacy).


The current project attempted to infuse personal discernment into Psyc 200 to increase students’ career-decision confidence (i.e., engage in self-appraisals of abilities/skills, collect occupational information, solve problems, identify career goals, and appropriately plan for the future; Betz et al., 1996; Jiang, 2014).  Overall, students seemed to appreciate the activities and appeared to benefit from using personal discernment when making career-related decisions. However, it should be noted that students in both sections of Psyc 200 (personal discernment and course-relevant control) experienced increases on the critical dependent variables in this project (i.e., Understanding of the Psychology Major and Career Decision Self-Efficacy). The increase in students’ Understanding of the Psychology Major and Career Decision Self-Efficacy suggests that the objectives of Psyc 200, with or without infusing personal discernment into the course, promote students’ critical thinking about and confidence in their chosen major and potential careers.  Because the School of Psychology at Xavier University instructs students in a manner consistent with the Jesuit, Catholic, liberal arts tradition, it is not surprising that content in Psyc 200 already promotes Xavier’s mission in the hearts, minds, and actions of the students.


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Is more ethics training in general psychology better?

Renee' A. Zucchero, Ph.D.
Mentor: Bob Ahuja, Ph.D. (Marketing)


Training in ethics is fundamental to Jesuit education; but, ethics are infrequently discussed in courses other than theology and philosophy. One-fourth of Xavier undergraduates enroll in General Psychology (PSYC 101) at some time during their time at the University. Yet, ethics are infrequently addressed in undergraduate psychology courses and are most likely covered in advanced courses, such as research or practicum/internship, or at the graduate level. Nevertheless, ethical issues pervade roles of a psychologist, including researcher, practitioner, and teacher. Therefore, increased content in the area of ethics would expose an array of students to a key component of Jesuit education. Furthermore, future psychologists and consumers of psychological services might develop a better understanding of psychologists' ethical behavior.

The following question is posed: "Are PSYC 101 students who are exposed to additional psychology ethics content more knowledgeable about psychology ethics at mid-semester than those who are not?"


Participants were students enrolled in four sections of PSYC 101 in the spring, 2008 semester. The prototypical participant was a 19 year-old, Caucasian, freshman female enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. Notably, only six percent of participants had declared psychology as a major. Psychology majors might represent a larger percentage of the sample if this study occurred in the fall semester. Forty-four percent of participants had previously been enrolled in a psychology course, while 41% had previously been enrolled in an ethics course.

Procedures:  Two PSYC 101 sections were exposed to a curriculum infused with ethics (n= 49), while two sections received the standard curriculum (n= 52). The author sought the assistance of two fellow Xavier psychology instructors to conduct this study. Nicholas Salsman, Ph.D. infused ethics content into the curriculum of the course section he taught and Julie Rowekamp, M.A. agreed for two course sections she taught to be used as the control group. This study was submitted to the Xavier University Institutional Review Board (IRB) and deemed exempt from IRB review.

Infusion of ethics occurred in the following course sections: careers in psychology (focused on the teaching of psychology), research, learning, social psychology, and clinical practice.  Students were exposed to examples of a psychologist's ethical and unethical behavior throughout the course. Initially, the American Psychological Association (APA) code of ethics (2002) was presented to the students to serve as a foundation for future discussions. A specific focus was on the General Principles, which guide psychologists' behavior, but are aspirational in nature. Students were also presented with specific ethical standards when appropriate during the semester. Table 1 provides a description of the ethics content, including the course topics, specific subjects presented, and instructional methods used.  

Measures: There were two measures utilized for this study. A 15 item multiple-choice achievement test was administered to participants. It was scored as the number of items correct (0 to 15). Three case studies were presented. Utilizing an open-ended response format, students identified the ethical issues and discussed how the situation could be more ethically resolved. Possible total case study scores ranged from 0 to 10. The achievement test and case studies were administered at the first class meeting (Pre-Test) and at mid-semester (Post-Test). Students were given 30 minutes in class to complete both measures.

Table 1

Ethics Content for General Psychology (PSYC 101)

Course Topic Subject Method(s) Used
Careers in Psychology/Teaching of Psychology Teaching Competence, Evaluation of Students, General Beneficence, Allocation of Authorship Credit, Dual Relationships Introduction of APA Code of Ethics, Classroom Discussion, Case Studies
Research The Ethical Researcher, Use of deception, Informed & Voluntary Consent, Institutional Review Board (IRB) Classroom Discussion, Case Studies
Learning Unethical Research Practices (deception, authorship credit); Watson's Little Albert Case Study Case Studies, Supplemental Reading, Video Clip, Classroom Discussion
Ethics Refresher Ethics of research and teaching Case studies, Small Group Discussion, Class Discussion
    Mid-semester post-test administered
Social Psychology Ethics in social psychology research (Classic studies conducted by Zimbardo, Asch, Milgram), use of deception in social psychology, informed and voluntary informed consent, second-order [informed] consent, IRB Classroom Discussion, Video Clip, Supplemental Reading
Clinical Practice Confidentiality, Limits of Confidentiality, Tarasoff Case, Duty to Warn, Informed Consent, Boundaries, Multiple Relationships, Competence, Exceptions to Competence Classroom Discussion, Case Studies, Small Group Discussion



Statistical analyses revealed several interesting findings. First, students in the experimental group displayed greater understanding of ethical situations and how to resolve ethical situations than the control group at mid-term (case studies). However, there was no difference between the control and experimental groups on their basic knowledge of ethics at mid-term (the achievement test). In addition, students in the experimental group displayed greater knowledge of ethics, a greater understanding of ethical situations, and how to resolve these situations at the post-test (mid-term) when compared to the pre-test (beginning of the semester). Specifically, students in Zucchero's course section displayed improvement on both the ethics achievement test and the case studies from pre-test to post-test, whereas students in Salsman's section did not display an improvement on either measure.


Let us revisit the initial question, "Are PSYC 101 students who are exposed to additional psychology ethics content more knowledgeable about psychology ethics at mid-semester than those who are not?" The findings suggest that the increased presence of psychology ethics content in general psychology (PSYC 101) may result in increased student knowledge of psychology ethics. The findings also suggest that the increased psychology ethics content may result in an increased ability to recognize unethical behavior and a better understanding of ethical behavior of psychologists.

The author describes these findings in a tentative manner, due to the observed differences in the experimental group sections at post-test (mid-term). Zucchero's experimental section displayed significantly improved outcomes on both measures at post-test, while Salsman's experimental section did not. Moreover, Zucchero's section displayed significantly higher case study scores at post-test than Rowekamp's and Salsman's course sections.

There are a few possible explanations for the observed differences between the experimental sections. First, students in Zucchero's course section completed ethics take home essay questions for tests one and two, while students in Salsman's section did not. The task of developing comprehensive essays related to ethics may have solidified the students' knowledge of the APA Ethics Code (2002) General Principles. Moreover, the essay question for test 2 required students to consider how they might conduct a flawed research study in a more ethical manner, similar to question 2 for each of the case studies. See Appendix A for the take home essay questions for tests 1 and 2.

Also, Zucchero may have more successfully integrated the use of case studies into a "refresher ethics lecture" prior to the post-test (mid-term) than Salsman. Case studies were presented to exemplify ethical situations involved in teaching psychology and conducting psychological research. Students formed small groups and were instructed to review an assigned case study, identifying the violated ethical principles and areas of concern, as well as how the situation could be ethically resolved. After discussion, each group reported back to the class. Students in each group described their case study and the aforementioned points of interest. This sparked additional discussion among the class as a whole.

The post-test results presented in this paper were administered at mid-term, rather than the end of the semester. Between mid-semester and the semester's end, ethics content in the areas of social psychology and clinical practice will be presented to students in the experimental condition. The true post-test (at the semester's end) might be a more accurate measure of cumulative student learning of psychology ethics for the course. Thus, it is possible that at the end of the semester, students in Salsman's section may display an improvement in their knowledge of psychology ethics and understanding of ethical situations, due to additional exposure to psychology ethics.

Finally, there may be an inherent difference between the course section taught by Zucchero and that taught by Salsman which cannot be controlled. That is, Zucchero taught this course for five consecutive semesters prior to the study; whereas this study was conducted during the first semester Salsman taught this course. The differing levels of the instructors' experience may account for some observed inequities.

Teaching Implications

The infusion of ethics into general psychology increased the author's enjoyment of teaching the course, despite the significant commitment (time and energy) to modifying the course content. The students appeared better engaged and were genuinely interested in learning about psychology. In class, they quickly identified unethical behavior and were able to indicate why it was unethical. They clearly articulated changes in case study situations that would result in a psychologist's ethical behavior and research that would be more likely to adhere to current ethical standards. Students effectively completed the take home essay questions about ethics. However, such questions would be difficult to integrate into an in-class testing format due to the intricate detail required and the necessary time to effectively answer the questions. One disadvantage of take home essay questions was the considerable increase in time and effort required to score the answers. However, the increase in student engagement and learning were certainly worth the extra exertion.

The Future

Again, the current paper describes part of a study designed to assess the utility of integrating psychology ethics into general psychology. A true post-test (semester's end) will be administered to the control and experimental groups on the last teaching day of the semester. The experimental group scores are expected to increase subsequent to the inclusion of additional ethics content. It is likely that the author will continue the infusion of ethics in general psychology in future semesters.

Author's Note: The author would like to thank the several people for their assistance with this project. Nicholas Salsman, Ph.D. and Julie Rowekamp, M.A. assisted with data collection. David Bull and Erica Eienman assisted with data entry.

Appendix A

Take Home Essay Questions for Zucchero's General Psychology Section

Test 1 (Focused on ethics related to teaching psychology and conducting psychological research)
Discuss the general principles of the American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Ethics (APA, 2002). What behaviors would an ethical teacher of psychology display? What behaviors would an ethical psychology researcher display?

Test 2 (Focused on research ethics specific to a classic case study about learning/ classical conditioning)
We discussed Watson's "Little Albert" case study at great length in class. Discuss this experiment, including how it was conducted. On your own, consider the ethical issues surrounding this case. What ethical principles were violated and what is the basis for your answer? Knowing what you know about ethical behavior of psychology researchers, what was unethical about Watson's behavior in this case? Given the same set of circumstances, how would you conduct this study so that it would be conducted in an ethical manner? What were the implications of this study for the field of psychology?


This paper has been published:

Zucchero, R. A. (2008). Can Psychology Ethics Effectively Be Integrated into Introductory Psychology? Journal of Academic Ethics, 6(3), 245-257.

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