Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 83, Issue 4, pp 789-804

First online:

An Experimental Investigation of Emotions and Reasoning in the Trolley Problem

  • Alessandro LanteriAffiliated withDepartment of Economic Science and Quantitative Methods (SEMeQ), Faculty of Economics, University of Eastern Piedmont at NovaraErasmus Institute for Philosophy and Economics (EIPE), Faculty of Philosophy, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam Email author 
  • , Chiara CheliniAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Turin University
  • , Salvatore RizzelloAffiliated withDepartment of Legal and Economic Science, Faculty of Law, University of Eastern Piedmont at Alessandria

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Elaborating on the notions that humans possess different modalities of decision-making and that these are often influenced by moral considerations, we conducted an experimental investigation of the Trolley Problem. We presented the participants with two standard scenarios (‹lever’ and ‹stranger’) either in the usual or in reversed order. We observe that responses to the lever scenario, which result from (moral) reasoning, are affected by our manipulation; whereas responses to the stranger scenario, triggered by moral emotions, are unaffected. Furthermore, when asked to express general moral opinions on the themes of the Trolley Problem, about half of the participants reveal some inconsistency with the responses they had previously given.


experiments intuition moral emotions moral judgement moral reasoning trolley problem