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Untangling Decision Routes in Moral Dilemmas: The Refugee Dilemma

Barque-Duran, A. & Pothos, E. M. ORCID: 0000-0003-1919-387X (2021). Untangling Decision Routes in Moral Dilemmas: The Refugee Dilemma. American Journal of Psychology, 134(2), pp. 143-166. doi: 10.5406/amerjpsyc.134.2.0143


It is sometimes considered that there are two routes to moral choice, deontological and utilitarian (with debate as to whether each of these routes uniquely reflect emotional vs. analytic components). Yet in moral judgments we are often faced with a third route to choice, based on rules imposed by an outside agency (most typically the legal framework of a country). Whether we agree with these rules or not, we can choose to guide moral choice in this way. Moreover, depending on the situation, we can sometimes choose to prioritize such external rules or not. Sometimes external rules coincide with either deontological or utilitarian biases. But what happens when they do not? Using a novel paradigm for moral judgment, the The Refugees’ Dilemma, we provide evidence for such a route to moral choice based on external rules. We show in three experiments that participants with high scores in a Cognitive Reflection Test or under Cognitive Load were more likely to adopt utilitarian or rule-based responses, as opposed to emotional ones. We also found that rule-based respondents reported the highest average Psychological Distance. These findings extend the predominant approach of dual-process models.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the accepted manuscript of an article published in American Journal of Psychology (AJP) by University of Illinois Press, DOI:
Publisher Keywords: Dual-Process Models; Ethics; Moral Judgment; Moral Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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