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

Kusev, Petko and van Schaik, Paul and Alzahrani, Shrooq and Lonigro, Samantha and Purser, Harry (2016) Judging the morality of utilitarian actions: How poor utilitarian accessibility makes judges irrational. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review . ISSN 1069-9384

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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.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Utility; moral dilemmas; accessibility; judgments; rational choice
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham UK Campus > Faculty of Science > School of Psychology
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-016-1029-2
Depositing User: Eprints, Support
Date Deposited: 21 May 2016 12:26
Last Modified: 17 Sep 2016 08:17
URI: http://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/33166

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