Cultural differences in responses to real-life and hypothetical trolley problems
journal contributionposted on 09.04.2014, 09:38 by Natalie Gold, Andrew M. Colman, Briony D. Pulford
Trolley problems have been used in the development of moral theory and the psychological study of moral judgments and behavior. Most of this research has focused on people from the West, with implicit assumptions that moral intuitions should generalize and that moral psychology is universal. However, cultural differences may be associated with differences in moral judgments and behavior. We operationalized a trolley problem in the laboratory, with economic incentives and real-life consequences, and compared British and Chinese samples on moral behavior and judgment. We found that Chinese participants were less willing to sacrifice one person to save five others, and less likely to consider such an action to be right. In a second study using three scenarios, including the standard scenario where lives are threatened by an on-coming train, fewer Chinese than British participants were willing to take action and sacrifice one to save five, and this cultural difference was more pronounced when the consequences were less severe than death.