The brakes of your car fail suddenly and on your path are five people who will certainly be hit and killed. You can steer, but if you do another pedestrian will find himself on your course. Just one. What do you do: do you take action and kill one person or do you do nothing and cause five people to die?
Researchers in Italy conducted some classic moral dilemmas with test subjects, but instead of just asking the subjects what they might do in these dilemmas, they had them choose in a virtual reality setting.
In fact, with virtual reality the subjects’ behaviour appears to be far more utilitarian than expressed in hypothetical judgements: “in tests with virtual reality people are far more likely to choose to steer and kill only one person,” explains Patil, the first author of the paper. “In classic moral dilemmas, that is, when the subjects are only required to express a judgement on what they would do, they are more likely to state that they would not take any voluntary action that would result in a person being killed.”
Maybe it’s just me, but this seems even less reliable than the interviews. Too many people today grew up playing video games where they long ago became coarsened to the death of characters in virtual environments. Trying to draw conclusions from how they react in these environments about how they might react in real life, or even what their philosophical attitude toward these dilemmas might be, seems hopelessly naive.
Part of what the study authors seem to be saying is that this should cause doubt, or at least more doubt, about the results from interviews or survey of people on hypothetical moral dilemmas. I can’t see how this would cause any additional doubt for those results than what already existed. It’s already well known that people often react differently from how they think they will react. The results of those studies are usually more to gauge people’s attitudes, not necessarily how they might react in a moment’s notice.
To me, all this study did was study how people handle moral dilemmas in video games, and I’m not even sure about that.
- Would You Kill Someone to Save Five Others? Virtual Reality Tells the Truth (motherboard.vice.com)
- 88. Bibliografia sobre Dilemas Morales (internaldisplaced.wordpress.com)
- The Neuroscientist Who Discovered He Was a Psychopath (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- All moral claims of universality MUST pass the universality test. (libertymentor.wordpress.com)
- 105. Philippa Foot 2002 (internaldisplaced.wordpress.com)