Masters Thesis

Sensitivity to Impending Reward and Punishment as a Moderator Variable in Moral Intuition and Commitment to Take Moral Action.

University students evaluated actions in moral scenarios in which a decision had to be made about whether to kill one person to save the lives of a larger number of people. Each participant rated both how right and how wrong they felt this action would be (bivariate measurement), with non-zero ratings on both scales representing moral ambivalence. Participants also indicated whether they would personally perform the action by responding Yes, No, or Can’t Decide (indecision). Participants’ sensitivities to impending reward (rightness of saving lives) and punishment (wrongness of killing) were measured on scales corresponding to the Behavioral Inhibition System and Behavioral Activation System (BIS/BAS). No correlations were found between BIS scores and ratings of wrong and BAS scores and ratings of right. Moderated logistic regression analysis of responses of Can’t Decide vs. Did Decide indicated no predictive value for high BIS scores but for several scenarios Can’t Decide was negatively correlated with the degree of separation between ratings of right and wrong. Additional correlational analysis showed that: (1) when a decision was made, the proportion of Yes responses was correlated with the group’s mean ratings of Right – Wrong; (2) the proportion of Can’t Decide responses was negatively correlated with the proportion of Yes responses among Decided subjects, implying that Can’t Decide was a substitute for committing to taking no action. Indecision in situations where doing nothing meant letting more people die was apparently an escape from taking moral responsibility for the consequences of inaction.


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