***CANCELLED*** Virtually Killing for the Greater Good: Action Aversion and the Emotional Inhibition of Harm in Moral Dilemmas

Monday, October 23, 2017

Carlos Navarrete

Associate Professor
Michigan State University

The psychology of moral judgment is influenced by both automatic emotional and deliberative reasoning systems. Expressed as aversive emotional arousal, psychological conflict arises when these systems produce competing intuitions about right and wrong in moral dilemmas. In this talk I describe an approach to studying the role of emotional arousal in modulating moral judgment and action using findings from behavioral studies where participants were immersed in a three-dimensional digital simulation of classic “trolley” scenarios. Participants chose whether or not to act as moral utilitarians— causing the death of one person in order to save the lives of five, while autonomic arousal was measured in real time. The results showed that emotional arousal is elevated when anticipating harming another person using personal force to achieve a utilitarian outcome, relative to when achieving a similar outcome via impersonal action, and this response differential is linked to a reduction in the likelihood of using harmful action. Demonstrating an “omission bias” in moral judgment, participants were more aroused in situations requiring action to produce a utilitarian outcome, compared to situations requiring no action to produce an equivalent outcome. Moreover, when the use of personal harm was required to save lives, emotional arousal was higher pre-action relative to post-action, suggesting that arousal may function as the output of the affective system working to inhibit harmful behavior. Implications for dual-process theory and harm-avoidance mechanisms are discussed.

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