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People Become More Utilitarian When They Face Moral Dilemmas In Virtual Reality 146

First time accepted submitter vrml writes "Critical situations in which participant's actions lead to the death of (virtual) humans have been employed in a study of moral dilemmas which just appeared in the Social Neuroscience journal. The experiment shows that participants' behavior becomes more utilitarian (that is, they tend to minimize the number of persons killed) when they have to take a decision in Virtual Reality rather than the more traditional settings used in Moral Psychology which ask participants to read text descriptions of the critical situations. A video with some of the VR moral dilemmas is available, as is the paper."

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People Become More Utilitarian When They Face Moral Dilemmas In Virtual Reality

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  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @04:15PM (#45910293)

    So, we're assuming that all participants considered the death of (virtual) humans to be a bad thing?

  • by tiberus ( 258517 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @04:29PM (#45910459)
    In the various versions of the train dilemma, you have two options 1) don't act and five people will die; or 2) act and only one person will die. While I see the logic of your argument, and tend to agree that it is the best overall or numerical result. It does seem to be a rather chilling choice. It avoids the premise that by taking action the actor becomes a murderer; having taken action that directly resulted in the death of another. In the other case the actor is only a witness to a tragic event.
  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @04:43PM (#45910625)

    He is not only a witness if he KNOWS that he had the power to prevent the five deaths at the cost of one other. Inaction is also an action by itself.

    Yes, and that ultimately leads to the "next level" of utilitarian dilemmas. What if you're a doctor, with five terminal patients who all need different organs. In walks a healthy person who is (miraculously) compatible with all of them.

    Should you kill the healthy person, harvest the organs, and save the five terminal patients? (For the sake of argument, we assume that the procedures involved have a high chance of success, so you'll definitely save a number of people by killing one.)

    Many people who say we should flip the switch in the trolley problem think it's wrong to murder someone to harvest their organ and ensure the same outcome. Why is "inaction" appropriate for the doctor, but not in the case of the trolley?

    (I'm not saying I have the right answers -- but once you start down the philosophical path of utilitarian hypotheticals, there's a whole world of wacko and bizarre situations waiting to challenge just about anyone's moral principles. I can't wait until the "I was kidnapped and forced to keep a famous violinist alive" scenarios come up!)

  • by blackraven14250 ( 902843 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @04:45PM (#45910633)

    It's a chilling choice, but the train dilemma is flawed when you consider that it would never happen in real life anyway. I'm not saying that the 5 vs. 1 scenario wouldn't happen, but I highly doubt someone is even going to consider the second option at all if presented with the scenario. If the thought doesn't even cross the person's mind, there's not a choice being made between the options. If no choice is being made in reality, the thought experiment is worthless as a way explain human behavior. The whole concept of the thought experiment is undermined when you realize that it's not something any person would ever end up doing because of another variable that the thought experiment does not consider.

  • by xevioso ( 598654 ) on Thursday January 09, 2014 @06:19PM (#45911645)

    There ARE real world versions of this. I pointed this out above, but the real world versions tend to involve atrocities during wartime, something that the armchair ethicists here don't seem to want to discuss much. A REAL scenario would involve a soldier telling a mother to shoot one of her children or the soldier would shoot all of them himself. These things have, and will continue to happen in real life on occasion.

    What's the proper response here? Attack the soldier with the gun he gives you to shoot your kid? OK, what if he tells you to choose which child will die and he will do it himself while you are tied up? The point is, in th real world, it is the CHOICE ITSELF which is the atrocity, and there is NO correct decision. In the real world. Which is one of the many reasons why war is evil.

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