Mental Health

Morality Study Shows Gap Between Intentions, Actions

Most of us tend to think of our views on morality as a fixed point, but a new study suggests they're far more fluid than we think, especially in the heat of the moment. The study, conducted by a team from Plymouth University in England, revealed that what people say they will do in moral situations and how they act in the moment is starkly different.

Although the majority of individuals involved in this study said they would never purposely sacrifice another's life “for the greater good,” when the situation was reenacted in the world of virtual reality, most chose to kill one person to save a life. In addition, the study also found that antisocial traits accurately predicted sacrificial moral actions in virtual reality, but they did not predict moral judgements given in the text-based dilemma, suggesting that a machine may be the only accurate way to really decipher a person’s true intentions and beliefs.  

For the study, volunteers were given the opportunity to push a large man off a footbridge in order the save the lives of five other men on a train coming towards them on the tracks. They were given the opportunity to either write down their answer or act out their response in a virtual reality setting. In both the text setting and the virtual reality, participants were given 10 seconds to decide whether they wanted to push the large person off the bridge to stop the trolley car’s progress or to allow the trolley car to continue and kill the five people standing on the tracks.

bible You may think you believe in your personal morals, but you might act differently if you were ever pressured. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Results showed that although only 20 percent of people said they would push the larger man to save the five others, when in the virtual reality setting 70 percent resorted to this action.

“The disparity demonstrated here between moral judgements on paper and moral actions in virtual reality suggests that they may be driven by different processes,” said lead study author Dr. Kathryn Francis, in a recent statement, adding that the research supports the popular adage “do as I say, not as I do.”

While the results may be discouraging, they do highlight the importance of virtual reality in helping us to better understand human psychology.

“The possibility of using immersive virtual reality in order to assess moral behaviour opens new prospects for future psychological assessment of antisocial behavior,” added study co-author Dr. Sylvia Terbeck, in a statement.

Source: Francis KB, Howard C, Howard IS, et al.Virtual Morality: Transitioning from Moral Judgment to Moral Action? Plos One. 2016

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