Cognition, Volume 209,
April 2021, 104572
Over the past two decades, the study of moral reasoning has been heavily influenced by Joshua Greene’s dual-process model of moral judgment, according to which deontological judgments are typically supported by intuitive, automatic processes while utilitarian judgments are typically supported by reflective, conscious processes. However, most of the evidence gathered in support of this model comes from the study of people’s judgments about sacrificial dilemmas, such as Trolley Problems. To which extent does this model generalize to other debates in which deontological and utilitarian judgments conflict, such as the existence of harmless moral violations, the difference between actions and omissions, the extent of our duties of assistance, and the appropriate justification for punishment? To find out, we conducted a series of five studies on the role of reflection in these kinds of moral conundrums. In Study 1, participants were asked to answer under cognitive load. In Study 2, participants had to answer under a strict time constraint. In Studies 3 to 5, we sought to promote reflection through exposure to counter-intuitive reasoning problems or direct instruction. Overall, our results offer strong support to the extension of Greene’s dual-process model to moral debates on the existence of harmless violations and partial support to its extension to moral debates on the extent of our duties of assistance.
From the Discussion Section
The results of Study 1 led us to conclude that certain forms of utilitarian judgments require more cognitive resources than their deontological counterparts. The results of Studies 2 and 5 suggest that making utilitarian judgments also tends to take more time than making deontological judgments. Finally, because our manipulation was unsuccessful, Studies 3 and 4 do not allow us to conclude anything about the intuitiveness of utilitarian judgments. In Study 5, we were nonetheless successful in manipulating participants’ reliance on their intuitions (in the Intuition condition), but this did not seem to have any effect on the rate of utilitarian judgments. Overall, our results allow us to conclude that, compared to deontological judgments, utilitarian judgments tend to rely on slower and more cognitively demanding processes. But they do not allow us to conclude anything about characteristics such as automaticity or accessibility to consciousness: for example, while solving a very difficult math problem might take more time and require more resources than solving a mildly difficult math problem, there is no reason to think that the former process is more automatic and more conscious than the latter—though it will clearly be experienced as more effortful. Moreover, although one could be tempted to conclude that our data show that, as predicted by Greene, utilitarian judgment is experienced as more effortful than deontological judgment, we collected no data about such experience—only data about the role of cognitive resources in utilitarian judgment. Though it is reasonable to think that a process that requires more resources will be experienced as more effortful, we should keep in mind that this conclusion is based on an inferential leap.