Universals and variations in moral decisions made in 42 countries by 70,000 participants


When do people find it acceptable to sacrifice one life to save many? Cross-cultural studies suggest a complex pattern of universals and variations in the way people approach this question, but data is often based on small samples from a small number of countries outside of the Western world. Here we analyze responses to three sacrificial dilemmas by 70,000 participants in 10 languages and 42 countries. In every country, the three dilemmas displayed the same qualitative ordering of sacrifice acceptability, suggesting that this ordering is best explained by basic cognitive processes rather than cultural norms. The quantitative acceptability of each sacrifice, however, showed substantial country-level variations. We show that low relational mobility (where people are more cautious about not alienating their current social partners) is strongly associated with the rejection of sacrifices for the greater good (especially for Eastern countries), which may be explained by the signaling value of this rejection. We make our dataset fully available as a public resource for researchers studying universals and variations in human morality.

JF Bonnefon
JF Bonnefon
Behavioral Scientist