Judging the morality of utilitarian actions: how poor utilitarian accessibility makes judges irrational

Petko Kusev, Paul Van Schaik, S Alzahrani, S Lonigro, H Purser

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Abstract

Is it acceptable and moral to sacrifice a few people’s lives to save many others? Research on moral dilemmas in psychology, experimental philosophy, and neuropsychology has shown that respondents judge utilitarian personal moral actions (footbridge dilemma) as less appropriate than equivalent utilitarian impersonal moral actions (trolley dilemma). Accordingly, theorists (e.g., Greene et al., 2001) have argued that judgments of appropriateness in personal moral dilemmas are more emotionally salient and cognitively demanding (taking more time to be rational) than impersonal moral dilemmas. Our novel findings show an effect of psychological accessibility (driven by partial contextual information; Kahneman, 2003) on utilitarian moral behavior and response time for rational choices. Enhanced accessibility of utilitarian outcomes through comprehensive information about moral actions and consequences boosted utility maximization in moral choices, with rational choices taking less time. Moreover, our result suggests that previous results indicating emotional interference, with rational choices taking more time to make, may have been artifacts of presenting partial information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)-
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2016

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Experimental Psychology
Neuropsychology
Artifacts
Reaction Time
Psychology
Research
Morality
Accessibility
Moral Dilemmas
Rational Choice
Surveys and Questionnaires
Impersonals
Psychological
Response Time
Emotion
Salient
Contextual
Theorists
Artifact
Interference

Cite this

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abstract = "Is it acceptable and moral to sacrifice a few people’s lives to save many others? Research on moral dilemmas in psychology, experimental philosophy, and neuropsychology has shown that respondents judge utilitarian personal moral actions (footbridge dilemma) as less appropriate than equivalent utilitarian impersonal moral actions (trolley dilemma). Accordingly, theorists (e.g., Greene et al., 2001) have argued that judgments of appropriateness in personal moral dilemmas are more emotionally salient and cognitively demanding (taking more time to be rational) than impersonal moral dilemmas. Our novel findings show an effect of psychological accessibility (driven by partial contextual information; Kahneman, 2003) on utilitarian moral behavior and response time for rational choices. Enhanced accessibility of utilitarian outcomes through comprehensive information about moral actions and consequences boosted utility maximization in moral choices, with rational choices taking less time. Moreover, our result suggests that previous results indicating emotional interference, with rational choices taking more time to make, may have been artifacts of presenting partial information.",
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Judging the morality of utilitarian actions: how poor utilitarian accessibility makes judges irrational. / Kusev, Petko; Van Schaik, Paul; Alzahrani, S; Lonigro, S; Purser, H.

In: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17.03.2016, p. -.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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