Jul 13, 2007

What would you do?

The Moral Sense Test

Scenario One:
You are standing on an embankment above a train track watching a track-maintenance team do its work. Suddenly, you hear the sound of a train barreling down the tracks: the brakes have failed, and the train is heading straight for the six workers. Beside you is a lever; if you pull it, the train will be forced onto a side track and will glide to a halt, killing one of the six maintenance people working on the side track. You must make the decision to pull the lever to save five lives, knowing that if you do one man will be killed. Should you pull the lever?

Scenario Two:
In another version of this dilemma, the sixth worker is standing beside you on the embankment. The only way to stop the train, and save the lives of the five people on the track, is for you to push the man beside you down onto the track. By pushing him in front of the train and so killing him, you will slow it down enough to save the others. Should you push him?

To ponder this and other moral dilemmas, click here and take the test for a Harvard Study. Or click on the choices below. Listen to an NPR interview regarding moral choices here.

Choose one for each dilemma
Scenario One: Yes
Scenario One: No
Scenario Two: Yes
Scenario Two: No
Free polls from Pollhost.com


john m said...

There is another option for the 2nd scenario: you can throw *yourself* in front of the train. This is what shapes the responses to that one... If you are have the option to act and are not willing to sacrifice yourself, it is more attractive to do nothing than to actively sacrifice someone else. The 1st scenario is not clouded like this, is offers only action and non-action.

Anonymous said...

If there was no "harmless" result in either alternative, I would do nothing.

If I turned the track to kill just one man on the side track it would turn out that the 6 crew men were Olympic jumpers and would have jumped out of the way in time.

My answer is, I would not touch a lever but I would shout down to the men that a train was coming.

Ms. Place said...

Yeah, John, I read an entire group of Trolley scenarios, and the situations go from easy to more complex with more self involvement or dilemmas offered. I took these two from an NPR discussion because the responses are so visceral, and to see if the cognitive scientist who was being interviewed was correct in his prediction.

I also took the test online. It confirmed a lot about where I set my own boundaries.

Anon. Your shout is a smart solution.

BTW, another test conducted in the 50's showed that people were willing to give fatal electric shocks to another as long as the responsibility for making the decision was taken from them. My group and I are convinced we would never go so far, but then, we've never taken the test.

Marius said...

I just finished listening to the NPR interview. This is such a fascinating topic. What makes us moral beings? It's refreshing to know that researchers are trying to figure that out.

Great post! And thanks for sharing.

BigAssBelle said...

my husband and i discussed this after he heard it on NPR. i think the willingness i have to kill the single person with the train and the unwillingness i have to fling my neighbor onto the tracks comes from proximity: the first is a long distance killing-by-other, while the second is a hands-on killing-by-me.

the one thing that never occurred to me until i read your first responder was to hurl myself onto the tracks. nope. wouldn't do it. i don't seem to have a brand of altruism that includes offering my life for others, at least not strangers.

interesting stuff . . .