Psychology’s favourite moral thought experiment doesn’t predict real-world behaviour


Would you wilfully hurt or kill one person so as to save multiple others? That’s the dilemma at the heart of moral psychology’s favourite thought experiment and its derivatives. In the classic case, you must decide whether or not to pull a lever to divert a runaway mining trolley so that it avoids killing five people and instead kills a single individual on another line.

Armed with thought experiments of this kind, psychologists have examined all manner of individual and circumstantial factors that influence people’s decisions. However, there’s a fatal (excuse the pun) problem. A striking new paper in Psychological Science finds that our answers to the thought experiments don’t match up with our real-world moral decisions. Continue reading →

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