Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

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Monday, December 3, 2018

Choosing victims: Human fungibility in moral decision-making

Michal Bialek, Jonathan Fugelsang, and Ori Friedman
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol 13, No. 5, pp. 451-457.

Abstract

In considering moral dilemmas, people often judge the acceptability of exchanging individuals’ interests, rights, and even lives. Here we investigate the related, but often overlooked, question of how people decide who to sacrifice in a moral dilemma. In three experiments (total N = 558), we provide evidence that these decisions often depend on the feeling that certain people are fungible and interchangeable with one another, and that one factor that leads people to be viewed this way is shared nationality. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants read vignettes in which three individuals’ lives could be saved by sacrificing another person. When the individuals were characterized by their nationalities, participants chose to save the three endangered people by sacrificing someone who shared their nationality, rather than sacrificing someone from a different nationality. Participants do not show similar preferences, though, when individuals were characterized by their age or month of birth. In Experiment 3, we replicated the effect of nationality on participant’s decisions about who to sacrifice, and also found that they did not show a comparable preference in a closely matched vignette in which lives were not exchanged. This suggests that the effect of nationality on decisions of who to sacrifice may be specific to judgments about exchanges of lives.

The research is here.
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