The Mismeasure of Morals: Antisocial Personality Traits Predict Utilitarian Responses to Moral Dilemmas

Cognition, Vol. 121, p. 154, 2011

Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 11-10

8 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2011  

Daniel M. Bartels

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

David A. Pizarro

Cornell University

Date Written: July 16, 2011

Abstract

Researchers have recently argued that utilitarianism is the appropriate framework by which to evaluate moral judgment, and that individuals who endorse non-utilitarian solutions to moral dilemmas (involving active vs. passive harm) are committing an error. We report a study in which participants responded to a battery of personality assessments and a set of dilemmas that pit utilitarian and non-utilitarian options against each other. Participants who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness. These results question the widely-used methods by which lay moral judgments are evaluated, as these approaches lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that those individuals who are least prone to moral errors also possess a set of psychological characteristics that many would consider prototypically immoral.

Keywords: Morality, Judgment, Decision making, Psychopathy, Values, Ethics, Intuition, Utilitarianism, Machiavellianism, Emotions, Reasoning, Moral rules, No Meaning, Moral dilemmas

Suggested Citation

Bartels, Daniel M. and Pizarro, David A., The Mismeasure of Morals: Antisocial Personality Traits Predict Utilitarian Responses to Moral Dilemmas (July 16, 2011). Cognition, Vol. 121, p. 154, 2011; Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 11-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1937818

Daniel M. Bartels (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

David A. Pizarro

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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