Moral dilemmas and moral principles: when emotion and cognition unite

Andrea Manfrinati, Lorella Lotto, Michela Sarlo, Daniela Palomba, Rino Rumiati
Cognition & Emotion 2013, 27 (7): 1276-91
Traditional studies on moral judgement used resolutions of moral dilemmas that were framed in terms of acceptability of the consequentialist action promoting a greater good, thus overlooking the deontological implications (choices cannot be justified by their consequences). Recently, some authors have suggested a parallelism between automatic, unreflective emotional responses and deontological moral judgements. In this study, we developed a novel experimental paradigm in which participants were required to choose between two resolutions of a moral dilemma (consequentialist and deontological). To assess whether emotions are engaged in each of the two resolutions, we asked participants to evaluate their emotional experience through the ratings of valence and arousal. Results showed that emotion is involved not only in deontological but also in consequentialist resolutions. Moreover, response times pointed out a different interplay between emotion and cognition in determining a conflict in the dilemma's resolution. In particular, when people were faced with trolley-like dilemmas we found that decisions leading to deontological resolutions were slower than decisions leading to consequentialist resolutions. We propose that this finding reflects the special (but not accepted) permission provided by the doctrine of the double effect for incidentally causing death for the sake of a good end.

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