Scientists Use Virtual Reality to Test Moral Dilemmas Involving Certain Death of Humans

Posted on January 18, 2014

Moral dilemma in virtual reality

Researchers have developed virtual reality experiments to test moral behavior in situations involving certain human death. Here is an example involving a car with failed breaks given by the researchers:

"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?"

The research was carried out by Indrajeet Patil, Carlotta Cogoni and Giorgia Silani of SISSA (the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste), in collaboration with the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory of the University of Udine. The researchers say the results show human behavior might be very different from what is seen in conventional tests relying on moral dilemmas. They say they found people act in a more utilitarian manner in the emotionally arousing virtual environments than they do when similar dilemmas are presented in a text format.

The researchers say, "Although research in moral psychology in the last decade has relied heavily on hypothetical moral dilemmas and has been effective in understanding moral judgment, how these judgments translate into behaviors remains a largely unexplored issue due to the harmful nature of the acts involved."

The researchers created virtual scenarios in which the participant's actions leads to the death of virtual humans. For example, the Train Dilemma involves intentionally steering a runaway train onto another track where it kills one person to avoid killing a group of multiple people. Take a look:

The research paper was published in the journal, Social Neuroscience.

Image: SISSA

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