Belief Updating in Moral Dilemmas

Abstract

Research on two classic moral dilemmas, Trolley and Footbridge, suggests that one’s past moral experiences can affect one’s subsequent moral decisions. These dilemmas have interested moral psychologists, in part, because they have found that people’s judgments about the dilemmas are affected by the order in which the dilemmas are considered. Furthermore, this effect is asymmetrical: people that consider Trolley after Footbridge have significantly different judgments than people in control conditions, but the converse is not true. We argue that this asymmetry is the result of a difference in how the each dilemma affects pre-existing beliefs regarding the importance of saving lives. In two experiments, we show that Footbridge disconfirms these beliefs, while Trolley does not significantly affect them. Consistent with predictions of a belief adjustment model of ordering effects, these findings offer a clear and parsimonious account of the asymmetry.


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