Bai, H., et al. (2021, February 25).
Past research on moral dilemmas has thoroughly investigated the roles of personality and situational variables, but the role of targets in moral dilemmas has been relatively neglected. This paper presents findings from four experiments that manipulate the perceived dehumanization of targets in moral dilemmas. Studies 1, 2 and 4 suggest that dehumanized targets may render the decision easier, and with less emotion. Findings from Studies 1 and 3, though not Studies 2 and 4, show that dehumanization of targets in dilemmas may lead participants to make less deontological judgments. Study 3, but not Study 4, suggests that it is potentially because dehumanization has an effect on reducing deontological, but not utilitarian judgments. Though the patterns are somewhat inconsistent across studies, overall, results suggest that targets’ dehumanization can play a role in how people make their decisions in moral dilemmas.
Together, the four studies described in this paper contribute to the literature by providing evidence that the dehumanization of targets may play an important role in how people make decisions in moral dilemmas. In particular, we found some evidence in Studies 1, 2 and 4 suggesting that dehumanized targets may affect how people experience their decisions, rendering the decisions easier and less emotional. We also found some evidence from Studies 1 and 3, though not Studies 2 and 4, that dehumanization of targets in dilemmas may affect what decision people eventually make, suggesting that dehumanized targets may elicit less deontological responses to some extent. Finally, Study 3, but not Study 4, suggests that the decreased level of deontological response pattern may be potentially explained by dehumanization’s effect on reducing deontological, but not utilitarian tendencies. To this point, we conducted a mini-meta-analysis across the combined data for Studies 3 and 4 and compared the differences in the D parameter between the dehumanized condition and humanized conditions. We found an effect size of d = .135, which suggests that if dehumanization has an effect, it may not be a very big effect.