Is There Such A Thing As Killing For Greater Good?

Could you kill one person to save five? The famous "trolley problem" thought experiment in ethics got a high-tech makeover recently when researchers recreated the scene, the choices, and the violent, bloody, loud repercussions using a computer simulation, joystick and a head-mounted 3D display.

Researchers at Michigan State University equipped 147 volunteers with the headset, joystick and fingertip sensors to monitor emotional reaction. The volunteers were dropped into a virtual world with a view of two diverging train tracks. One set of tracks led through a ravine with a single person walking along the tracks. The other led to another ravine with five people walking along the tracks.

If the volunteer did nothing the train would follow its course, ploughing through and killing the five pedestrians. Or the volunteer could use the joystick to throw a virtual switch, diverting the train to the other track and on a path to kill one person.

The study found that 90.5 per cent pulled the switch, resulting in the death of one hiker. Three pulled the switch and then returned it to it's original position. The remaining 11 didn't pull the switch.

The conclusion roughly matches past studies that didn't use virtual reality to more graphically depict the consequences of the choices.

"I think humans have an aversion to harming others that needs to be overridden by something," said Carlos David Navarrete, lead researcher on the project. "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."

What would you do?

Moral dilemma: Would you kill one person to save five? [MSU]


Comments

    *insert why is this on kotaku comment here*

    In games I have no trouble being the biggest bastard around for 'the greater good' but I'm not sure how I'd deal with these dillema's in real life. Until it stops being hypothetical I'm not sure I would ever know which way I'd go.

      Well, the research is using a virtual environment to conduct some interesting experiments. Seems pretty tech/ gamey to me.

        Maybe I should have put /sarcasm eh? ;)

    I'd be asking the researchers if there was a way to turn the train around so I could get a better score.

    The point of the game was to hit as many people as possible, right?

    Quicksave right before then try both options.

    Well one should consider why they're even on the tracks in the first place.

    We should allow the five to die 5 because then there's 5x less Darwin Award material still walking amongst us.

    That and maybe the lone guy checked the train timetable to make sure he was on the correct side of the ravine.

    Fuck the five.

    Yes. Take for example little girl thats obviously a zombie bite victim.

    Now you don't just blow her brains out, you tie her up and wait. if she ends up being immune, all good. but if not, blow her head off, save everyone else.

      I've seen enough Zombie movies to know that the chances are shes going to get loose of the ties and infect either someone that you deeply care about or actually bite you. I'd give her the double tap treatment....immediately

    They should have used the better utilitarian ethics scenario of Pedro in the South American jungle instead of the trolley one.

    You're hiking in the south american jungles and you stumble across a tribal village. In this village 20 natives are lined up and are about to be shot by government forces. The leader of these forces , Pedro sees you arrive and says that in honour of the occasion he will not have his troops execute the 20 natives if you personally kill one with his gold plated pistol.

    This example is a shooter, it would sell more. The kids clearly want more COD. Flipping switches is played.

    I would choose to save the five purely based on the number of people I saved. The death scream in this video is almost as bizarre as the Max Payne V junkies.

    *******Mass Effect Spoiler********
    In Mass Effect there was a part of the game where you had to choose which crew member had to die with no possible way to save them both. In this scenario you need to make a choice purely based on who you like more. I'm sure people struggled with this.

    I think the only problem with this is that at the end of the day, no-one was killed, that sounds horrible. The subjects knew it was an experiment and at the end of the day, they didn't suffer any consequences and didn't need to live with the idea of killing someone, only that a set of pixels/polygons were separated from others.
    There's no solution to this problem that isn't inhumane and unethical unfortunately

    My natural instinct is to reduce the casualties, just like society has taught me to think. However, the logic in me says it doesn't really matter what choice I make. Those five I save could go on to become murderers who increase the loss from one to more than five. If I'd left the switch as it is, only those five would have died and there would be no flow on effect.

    I think the problem with this one is that it was just six total strangers. Make the one person someone they relate to or are attached to and see how their reactions differ. My hypothesis is that if the one person is someone they know or have attachments to, they will let the five die.

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