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Friday, October 8, 2021

Can induced reflection affect moral decision-making

Daniel Spears, et al. (2021) 
Philosophical Psychology, 34:1, 28-46, 
DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2020.1861234


Evidence about whether reflective thinking may be induced and whether it affects utilitarian choices is inconclusive. Research suggests that answering items correctly in the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) before responding to dilemmas may lead to more utilitarian decisions. However, it is unclear to what extent this effect is driven by the inhibition of intuitive wrong responses (reflection) versus the requirement to engage in deliberative processing. To clarify this issue, participants completed either the CRT or the Berlin Numeracy Test (BNT) – which does not require reflection – before responding to moral dilemmas. To distinguish between the potential effect of participants’ previous reflective traits and that of performing a task that can increase reflectivity, we manipulated whether participants received feedback for incorrect items. Findings revealed that both CRT and BNT scores predicted utilitarian decisions when feedback was not provided. Additionally, feedback enhanced performance for both tasks, although it only increased utilitarian decisions when it was linked to the BNT. Taken together, these results suggest that performance in a numeric task that requires deliberative thinking may predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas. The finding that feedback increased utilitarian decisions only in the case of BNT casts doubt upon the reflective-utilitarian link.

From the General Discussion

Our data, however, did not fully support these predictions. Although feedback resulted in more utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas, this effect was mostly attributable to feedback on the BNT.  The effect was  not  attributable to differences in baseline task-performance. Additionally, both CRT and BNT scores predicted utilitarian responses when feedback was not provided. That  performance in the CRT predicts  utilitarian decisions is in agreement with a previous study linking cognitive reflection to utilitarian choice (Paxton et al., 2012; but see Sirota, Kostovicova, Juanchich, & Dewberry, pre-print, for the absence of effect when using a verbal CRT without numeric component).