Researchers at Lund University and other institutions have found that moral decisions can be influenced by eye tracking.
Scientists have managed to influence people's responses to questions such as "is murder defensible?" by tracking their eye movements. When the participants had looked at a randomly pre-selected response long enough, they were asked for an immediate answer. Fifty-eight percent chose that answer as their moral position.
The study shows that our moral decisions can be influenced by what we are looking at when we make the decision. Using a new experimental method, the researchers tracked participants' eye movements and demanded an answer when their eye rested on a randomly pre-selected answer.
The researchers studied in real time how people deliberate with themselves in difficult moral dilemmas. The participants had no idea that the researchers were carefully monitoring how their gaze moved in order to demand an answer at the right moment. The results showed that the responses were systematically influenced by what the eye saw at the moment an answer was demanded.
Researcher Philip Parnamets said that in this study they have seen that timing has a strong influence on the moral choices people make. The processes that lead to a moral decision are reflected in their gaze. However, what their eyes rest on when a decision is taken also affects their choice.
The study is the first to demonstrate a connection between gaze and moral choices, but it is based on previous studies which have shown that for simpler choices, such as choosing between two dishes on a menu, our eye movements say what we will eat for dinner before we have really decided.
Petter Johansson added that what is new is that they have demonstrated that if eye movements are tracked moment by moment, it is possible to track the person's decision-making process and steer it in a pre-determined direction.
The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.