Moral Principles or Consumer Preferences? Alternative Framings of the Trolley Problem
Article first published online: 11 DEC 2009
Copyright © 2009 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 34, Issue 2, pages 311–321, March 2010
How to Cite
Rai, T. S. and Holyoak, K. J. (2010), Moral Principles or Consumer Preferences? Alternative Framings of the Trolley Problem. Cognitive Science, 34: 311–321. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2009.01088.x
- Issue published online: 9 FEB 2010
- Article first published online: 11 DEC 2009
- Received 15 June 2009; received in revised form 29 August 2009; accepted 2 September 2009
- Moral judgment;
- Biases and heuristics;
- Decision making;
We created paired moral dilemmas with minimal contrasts in wording, a research strategy that has been advocated as a way to empirically establish principles operative in a domain-specific moral psychology. However, the candidate “principles” we tested were not derived from work in moral philosophy, but rather from work in the areas of consumer choice and risk perception. Participants were paradoxically less likely to choose an action that sacrifices one life to save others when they were asked to provide more reasons for doing so (Experiment 1), and their willingness to sacrifice lives depended not only on how many lives would be saved, but on the number of lives at risk (Experiment 2). The latter effect was also found in a within-subjects design (Experiment 3). These findings suggest caution in the use of artificial dilemmas as a key testbed for revealing principled bases for moral judgment.