Perspective

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

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Remember the trolly car moral dilemma and it's modern version (robot cars)? There's another wrinkle ... your choices may be different depending on what language you use for thinking about the problem. Here's the beginning of an article, Thinking in a Foreign Language Could Sway Your Moral Judgments, about this strangeness ....

Would you kill one person to save five?

This cruel dilemma pits the principle of thou-shalt-not-kill against simple math: Five is greater than one. But presumably it’s a dilemma each person solves the same way each time, unaffected by superficial things like the language in which it’s presented. After all, we like to think we abide by a consistent moral code.

Yet psychologists say that’s not always the case. In a series of experiments, they found that people confronted with this one-for-five dilemma were far more likely to make a utilitarian choice when contemplating it in a foreign language.

“We tend to think about our ethical decisions as reflecting something fundamental about who we are,” said psychologist Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago, co-author of the new study, published April 23 in Public Library of Science ONE. “You wouldn’t think they would depend on such a seemingly irrelevant thing as whether you’re using your native language. But it can matter.”

The findings fit into a growing body of research that casts decision-making as involving the interplay of competing psychological mechanisms: one that’s instinctive and emotional, and another that’s deliberative and calculating .....

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