Masters Thesis

Social and Biological Proximity to Others as Factors in Moral Decision Making

Intergroup bias was evaluated using moral dilemmas in which killing one person was necessary to save five others. The five people had demographic characteristics that placed them in varying degrees of proximity to the decision-maker: atheists, elderly, strangers, cousins, siblings, and children. A total of 253 university students rated both how right and how wrong killing the target was to save the at-risk groups. Theoretically, ratings of right captured the benefits of saving the five people, while ratings of wrong emphasized the costs of killing the target. Averaged across all scenarios, ratings of right increased from strangers to children; ratings of wrong decreased but to a lesser extent. Moral identity and religiosity were also measured to see if intergroup bias varied with these personality factors. Moral identity had no correlation with the ratings. However, religiosity correlated with the ratings and suggested a deontological bias in which participants applied a moral rule that prohibits killing regardless of any perceived benefits. For all proximity levels, religious groups’ ratings of right were lower, and their ratings of wrong were higher, compared to the non-religious group, illustrating an aversion to killing the target regardless of the at-risk group. However, the religious groups and the non-religious group showed a similar increase in ratings of right towards genetically related, at-risk groups. Therefore, intergroup bias was still present in conjunction with the religious deontological bias.


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