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Trolley Dilemma in Papua. Yali horticulturalists refuse to pull the lever

Abstract

Although many studies show cultural or ecological variability in moral judgments, cross-cultural responses to the trolley problem (kill one person to save five others) indicate that certain moral principles might be prevalent in human populations. We conducted a study in a traditional, indigenous, non-Western society inhabiting the remote Yalimo valley in Papua, Indonesia. We modified the original trolley dilemma to produce an ecologically valid “falling tree dilemma.” Our experiment showed that the Yali are significantly less willing than Western people to sacrifice one person to save five others in this moral dilemma. The results indicate that utilitarian moral judgments to the trolley dilemma might be less widespread than previously supposed. On the contrary, they are likely to be mediated by sociocultural factors.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    An interesting finding is that these cultural differences are greater when the consequences are less severe, e.g., financial rather than human lives (Gold et al., 2014; Winskel & Bhatt, 2019).

  2. 2.

    A similar distinction has been proposed by Everett et al. (2018), in which utilitarian decisions stem from impartial care for others (positive utilitarianism, including assessing consequences), and willingness to cause harm to others (negative utilitarianism, including assessing social norms).

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Correspondence to Piotr Sorokowski.

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Sorokowski, P., Marczak, M., Misiak, M. et al. Trolley Dilemma in Papua. Yali horticulturalists refuse to pull the lever. Psychon Bull Rev (2020). https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-019-01700-y

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Keywords

  • Trolley problem
  • Moral dilemma
  • Moral judgment
  • Moral reasoning
  • Utilitarianism
  • Yali