Mind & Society

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 215–226 | Cite as

Taboo or tragic: effect of tradeoff type on moral choice, conflict, and confidence

Original Article


Historically, cognitivists considered moral choices to be determined by analytic processes. Recent theories, however, have emphasized the role of intuitive processes in determining moral choices. We propose that the engagement of analytic and intuitive processes is contingent on the type of tradeoff being considered. Specifically, when a tradeoff necessarily violates a moral principle no matter what choice is made, as in tragic tradeoffs, its resolution should result in greater moral conflict and less confidence in choice than when the tradeoff offers a moral escape route, as in taboo tradeoffs. We manipulated tradeoff type in between subjects design and confirmed the prediction that tragic tradeoffs prompt more conflict and less confidence than taboo tradeoffs. The findings further revealed that moral conflict mediated the effect of tradeoff type on confidence. The study sheds light on the manner in which human minds resolve moral problems involving social agents.


Analytic and intuitive processes Subjective mental effort Problem difficulty Moral choice Confidence Moral conflict Omission bias Trolley problem 



This research was funded by Discovery Grant 249537-2002 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada to the first author. We thank Cpl Sara Salehi for her assistance with this research and two anonymous reviewers for their feedback on an earlier draft of this article.


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Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada as represented by the Minister of National Defence 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Defence Research and Development CanadaTorontoCanada

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