Using a Foreign Language Affects Your Ethical Reasoning

(Photo: Elliott Brown)

You're standing on a footbridge overlooking a train track. A train is coming down that track. It is about to hit and kill five people.

A very heavy man is also on the bridge. If you push him off the bridge, his body will stop the train, but it will also kill him.

Would you push him?

How you answer this ethical dilemma may be affected by the language in which you hear it. Researchers at the University of Chicago and Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona found that when people encountered this dilemma in a foriegn language, they were more likely to take the utilitarian option: pushing the man off the footbridge. Science 2.0 reports:

The researchers collected data from people in the U.S., Spain, Korea, France and Israel. Across all populations, more participants selected the utilitarian choice — to save five by killing one — when the dilemmas were presented in the foreign language than when they did the problem in their native tongue.

Even with randomizing the participants' language groups, "those using a foreign language were twice as likely to respond with the utilitarian approach that is more in the service of the common good of saving more people," said lead author Albert Costa from the Center of Brain and Cognition, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Costa is currently a visiting professor at the University of Chicago.

-via Marilyn Terrell

Would you push him?

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How can I push a man so heavy he can stop a train? How would people on the train survive such sudden stop? This scenario is horribly bad to base research on.

No I would not kill an innocent bystander to save five unknown derps from Darwin. Don't walk on the tracks!
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