Trolley problems in context

Christopher Shallow, Rumen Iliev*, Douglas L Medin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Would you redirect a trolley to save five people even if it means that the trolley will run over a person on the side track? Most people say they would. Would you push that same person into the path of the trolley in order to save the five? Most people say they would not. These sorts of intuitive moral judgments are made rapidly and seem almost automatic. Now imagine a combined choice context where one can redirect a trolley, push a person in its path or do nothing. The number of lives lost from intervening can be varied. The most straightforward interpretations of current theories of moral judgment predict either no effect or that the combined context will lead to greater focus on lives lost. In contrast, we observe a similarity effect such that utilitarian choice may become less attractive in the combined choice context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-601
Number of pages9
JournalJudgment and Decision Making
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011


  • Context effects
  • Moral decision making
  • Moral dilemma
  • Similarity effect
  • Trolley problem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Economics and Econometrics


Dive into the research topics of 'Trolley problems in context'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this