Railroad Switch


In the virtual world, each participant was stationed at a railroad switch where two sets of tracks veered off. Up ahead and to their right, five people hiked along the tracks in a steep ravine that prevented escape. On the opposite side, a single person hiked along in the same setting.

As the boxcar approached over the horizon, the participants could either do nothing — letting the coal-filled boxcar go along its route and kill the five hikers — or pull a switch (in this case a joystick) and reroute it to the tracks occupied by the single hiker.

Of the 147 participants, 133 (or 90.5 percent) pulled the switch to divert the boxcar, resulting in the death of the one hiker. Fourteen participants allowed the boxcar to kill the five hikers (11 participants did not pull the switch, while three pulled the switch but then returned it to its original position).

The findings are consistent with past research that was not virtual-based, Navarrete said.

The study also found that participants who did not pull the switch were more emotionally aroused. The reasons for this are unknown, although it may be because people freeze up during highly anxious moments — akin to a solider failing to fire his weapon in battle, Navarrete said.

“I think humans have an aversion to harming others that needs to be overridden by something,” Navarrete said. “By rational thinking we can sometimes override it — by thinking about the people we will save, for example. But for some people, that increase in anxiety may be so overpowering that they don’t make the utilitarian choice, the choice for the greater good.” –Science Daily

Writing Prompt: Write a scene or story about a character with a moral dilemma.

Journaling Prompt: Write about a moral dilemma you have faced and how you reacted.

Art Prompt: Moral Dilemma

Photo Credit: Beige Alert on Flickr

2 Responses to Prompt #276 Moral Dilemma

  1. Dawn Herring says:

    Liz,
    This prompt is rather thought-provoking! A real picture of the human response and how it effects our decisions. Our journals are the perfect place to work out those sticky dilemmas so we can make better sense of our world.

    I have chosen your post, Prompt #276: Moral Dilemma, as the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 3/1912 for all things journaling on Twitter.
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: http://www.refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com/.

    #JournalChat Live is Thursdays at 5 EST/2 PST for all things journaling on Twitter.

    Thanks again for providing such a thought-provoking prompt.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

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