People with higher working memory are more likely to take a balanced decision on moral issues, a new study has found.
Previous studies have suggested that moral dilemmas can evoke strong emotions in people and tend to override thoughtful deliberation and reasoning.
However, a new neuroimaging research has shown that sometimes people are capable of voluntarily suppressing these emotional reactions, allowing for decisions based on reasoning and careful deliberation of the consequences of one's actions.
Adam Moore of Princeton University and his colleagues Brian Clark and Michael Kane of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro examined this notion by measuring individuals' working memory capacity, essentially their ability to mentally juggle multiple pieces of information.
The idea was that people who could best juggle information would be able to control their emotion and engage in 'deliberative processing.'
The researchers then asked participants to make decisions in emotionally provocative situations. For example, "A runaway trolley hurtles toward five unaware workmen; the only way to save them is to push a heavy man (standing nearby on a footbridge) onto the track where he will die in stopping the trolley."
Researchers found that in such emotion laden scenarios, people with high working memory capacity were not only more consistent in their judgments but their answers indicated that they were considering the consequences of their choices in a way that the other participants were not.
"This suggests that emotional reactions to moral issues can drive our judgments and motivate action but can also blind us to the consequences of our decisions in some cases," the authors said.
They added that ultimately, people with higher working memory can be relied upon to make more consistent decisions and are able to more deeply consider consequences in these highly charged instances.
The study appears in the June issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.