Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas

Date:
October 1, 2011
Source:
Columbia Business School
Summary:
Scientists found that people who endorse actions consistent with an ethic of utilitarianism -- the view that what is the morally right thing to do is whatever produces the best overall consequences -- tend to possess psychopathic and Machiavellian personality traits.

A study conducted by Daniel Bartels, Columbia Business School, Marketing, and David Pizarro, Cornell University, Psychology found that people who endorse actions consistent with an ethic of utilitarianism -- the view that what is the morally right thing to do is whatever produces the best overall consequences -- tend to possess psychopathic and Machiavellian personality traits.

Related Articles


In the study, Bartels and Pizarro gave participants a set of moral dilemmas widely used by behavioral scientists who study morality, like the following: "A runaway trolley is about to run over and kill five people, and you are standing on a footbridge next to a large stranger; your body is too light to stop the train, but if you push the stranger onto the tracks, killing him, you will save the five people. Would you push the man?" Participants also completed a set of three personality scales: one for assessing psychopathic traits in a non-clinical sample, one that assessed Machiavellian traits, and one that assessed whether participants believed that life was meaningful. Bartels and Pizarro found a strong link between utilitarian responses to these dilemmas (e.g., approving the killing of an innocent person to save the others) and personality styles that were psychopathic, Machiavellian or tended to view life as meaningless.

These results (which recently appeared in the journal Cognition) raise questions for psychological theories of moral judgment that equate utilitarian responses with optimal morality, and treat non-utilitarian responses as moral "mistakes." The issue, for these theories, is that these results would lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that those who are "optimal" moral decision makers (i.e., who are likely to favor utilitarian solutions) are also those who possess a set of traits that many would consider prototypically immoral (e.g., the emotional callousness and manipulative nature of psychopathy and Machiavellianism).

While some might be tempted to conclude that these findings undermine utilitarianism as an ethical theory, Prof. Bartels explained that he and his co-author have a different interpretation: "Although the study does not resolve the ethical debate, it points to a flaw in the widely-adopted use of sacrificial dilemmas to identify optimal moral judgment. These methods fail to distinguish between people who endorse utilitarian moral choices because of underlying emotional deficits (like those captured by our measures of psychopathy and Machiavellianism) and those who endorse them out of genuine concern for the welfare of others." In short, if scientists' methods cannot identify a difference between the morality of a utilitarian philosopher who sacrifices her own interest for the sake of others, and a manipulative con artist who cares little about the feelings and welfare of anyone but himself, then perhaps better methods are needed.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Columbia Business School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Columbia Business School. "Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110930153042.htm>.
Columbia Business School. (2011, October 1). Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110930153042.htm
Columbia Business School. "Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110930153042.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

AP (Dec. 16, 2014) More departments are ordering their first responders to sit in on training sessions that focus on how to more effectively interact with those with autism spectrum disorder (Dec. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Newsy (Dec. 12, 2014) A study out of Britain suggest men are more idiotic than women based on the rate of accidental deaths and other factors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins