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Cologne Talks

This speakers' series brings leading international experts on social cognition to the University of Cologne.

expand: Bertram Gawronski | June 2018

Consequences, norms, and generalized inaction in moral dilemmas:
The CNI model of moral decision-making

Bertram Gawronski | The University of Texas at Austin, USA

June 14, 2018 | 12 pm | Venue: S 12 | Seminar Building

Abstract: Research on moral judgments has been fundamentally shaped by the distinction between utilitarianism and deontology. According to the principle of utilitarianism, the moral status of behavioral options depends on their consequences; the principle of deontology states that the moral status of behavioral options depends on their consistency with moral norms. To identify the psychological processes underlying utilitarian and deontological judgments, researchers have investigated responses to moral dilemmas that pit one principle against the other (e.g., trolley dilemma). In the current talk, I will argue that the conceptual meaning of responses in this paradigm is ambiguous, because the defining aspects of utilitarianism and deontology (i.e., consequences and norms) are not manipulated. I will illustrate how this shortcoming undermines theoretical interpretations of empirical findings and describe an alternative approach that resolves the ambiguities of the traditional paradigm. Expanding on this approach, I will present a multinomial model that allows researchers to independently quantify sensitivity to consequences (C), sensitivity to moral norms (N), and general preference for inaction versus action irrespective of consequences and norms (I) in responses to moral dilemmas. I will present several studies that have used this model to investigate psychological determinants of moral judgments. The findings of these studies pose a major challenge to the core assumptions of extant theories, showing that the shortcomings of the traditional paradigm have led to several inaccurate conclusions about the psychological processes underlying moral judgments.

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