People don't tend to depend on gut feelings when they make extremely tough decisions such as choosing whose life to save and whose not to. Moral inclinations have been found to be the strongest factor in making such decisions, finds a new study.
The findings suggested that adolescents and adults reason deeply about complex moral issues, belying the popular notion that we rely on our 'guts' and don't think through challenging questions on right and wrong.
‘This study completely hoses down the belief that we rely on our 'guts' and don't think through challenging situations. It actually states that both adolescents and adults reason deeply about complex moral issues before they make the decision.
"When confronted with very, very hard questions about the value of life, decisions are grounded in multiple and sometimes competing for considerations about harm, welfare, individual rights, fairness, and justice," said lead author Audun Dahl, Associate Professor of psychology at the University of California in the US.
"Contrary to popular belief, people are quite able to articulate all of this when asked to justify how they arrived at their decision," he added in the paper detailed in the journal, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development.
In the study, Dahl analyzed moral reasoning by sharing examples of hypothetical dilemma scenarios, with 432 adolescents, college students, and other adults.
In the first scenario, a train hurtling down a track was about to hit and kill five people, but a bystander could throw a switch and divert the train to another track, saving five lives. A diversion would, however, kill one person who was tied to the other track. What was the right thing to do?
In the second, five people were tied to a track. A bystander on a footbridge above the track could push one man to his death on the track, taking one life to save five others.
In both situations, people recognized the value of life; they want to maximize the welfare of all. However, Dahl said that moral reasoning is more than counting lives.
In addition to the number of lives that would be saved, "both adolescents and adults considered a number of factors: the fundamental value of life, the intrinsic rights of individuals, their involvement and their responsibilities in the scenarios, as well as guilt and social repercussions," he noted.
"Our findings rebut the notion that adults can't reason about moral issues," Dahl said.