Monday, 5 December 2011

Moral Psychology in the News

Two papers have caused a flurry of media attention about moral psychology in the past week.

The first, "Virtual Morality", was a replication of the standard Trolley Problem with a twist. Instead of being a pen-and-paper description of the scenario, the study's authors actually produced a virtual reality implementation of it - and found that participants' decisions didn't alter significantly from the standard method of presenting it. Although the virtual reality part is what's caught the media's attention, I found the most interesting point to be the finding regarding the relationship between autonomic arousal and utilitarian choice; the higher the arousal, the less likely the participant is to choose the utilitarian option.

The second article, "Judgement Before Principle", found evidence suggesting that the tendency to judge harmful actions more harshly than harmful omissions arises automatically; the condemnation of harmful omissions is due to controlled cognition over-riding the effect. I've not had the chance to read the paper thoroughly yet, but it sounds like it was a neuroscientific follow-up to Cushman's earlier paper "The Role of Conscious Reasoning and Intuition in Moral Judgement".

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