Morality on the Web

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Science  19 Jan 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5810, pp. 302
DOI: 10.1126/science.315.5810.302b

Inconsistencies—for instance, between what is observed and what is reported—can be fecund ground for researchers to till, and a topic of current interest is the incongruence between the moral judgments that people make and the reasons that people proffer as a basis for those judgments. At one side are the proponents of conscious or deliberative thought as the means for making choices when confronted with moral dilemmas, whereas another view favors intuitions arrived at via automatic or inaccessible processes as the motivation for their responses.

Cushman et al. have elicited “ought versus ought not” judgments and postjudgment rationales from more than 500 people by using a Web-based script. Participants read carefully constructed scenarios and registered their judgments; they were then presented with their choices in pairs of the scenarios that differed in only one of three dimensions and asked for a justification. In situations where action (or inaction) was involved, participants were consistent in their judgments and generally had no difficulty in articulating a reasoned argument for how they had decided which behavior was morally better. In contrast, when intentional (or unintentional) harm was the issue, the pattern of judgment was just as clear as in the action scenarios, but most participants could not explain why they had chosen as they did. Hence, there may be more than one way to reach a decision on morality. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 17, 1082 (2006).

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