During the Christmas season, the biggest choice we usually have to make is what present to buy for someone–but sometimes we’re faced with tough choices. Here’s an example: Would you take someone’s life in order to prevent the deaths of several other people? A new study shows that’ what most people would do.
The study participants put on headsets that plunged them into a 3-D, virtual world, where they were standing near a railroad switch where two sets of tracks were next to each other, then veered off into separate directions. As a train approached, the subjects could choose to do nothing and allow it to run over five hikers, or pull a joystick to reroute the train to a different track, where it would kill just one hiker.
About 90% percent of them chose to pull the switch that diverted the boxcar to kill just one hiker (Note: It wasn’t them, so they weren’t offered the suicide option). However, a few of them did nothing, and even fewer pulled the rerouted the train, but then changed their minds and returned it to its original position.
In LiveScience.com, Remy Melina quotes evolutionary psychologist David Navarrete as saying, "I think humans have an aversion to harming others that needs to be overridden by something. 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."
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