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The influence of mood on moral judgment

The previous text is one of the most commonly used to test the moral intuitions of the people, and how emotions influence moral judgments.

In experimental situations, most of the people that they have been presented with the text claimed to be unwilling to push the man to the pathways, which is considered to be a response to non-utilitarian (one answer utilitarian would take into account the utility of the action on the principles, that is to say: decide to push the man, sacrificing one life to save five).

Various scholars have interpreted this response as evidence that people have some strong feelings or emotions, moral that make us find repulsive the fact of sacrificing consciously the life of someone, even if it we can save five people.

According to these experts, our judgments about what is right or wrong are determined by the emotions: the reasons which we adduce in favor of what is right or wrong would not be more than justifications and rationalizations after the fact.

But, in addition, various studies have shown that the state of mind of each individual also plays an important role when judging what is good or bad. Thus, if individuals predisposes them to a state of good mood (after viewing a video of funny), is more likely to respond that would be fine sacrificing the man on the bridge to save the passengers of the cart. Apparently, the good mood induced could counteract the anxiety that may cause act against our moral intuitions.

However, a recent article published in the journal Cognition (and reviewed in Scientific American) states that morality is not reducible to the emotions, and that emotions and reasoning are inextricably intertwined in our moral judgments.

The four authors of the article, from the University of Regesnburg, Germany) divided into three groups, the subjects of the experiment, and led to three mood states: positive, negative, and one that would serve as a control, the neutral state:

The positive state was induced to listen to the subject the work of Mozart’s “A little serenade” (‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik”), as they were writing an episode of the past that considered “positive”; to induce the negative state were made to listen to the work of Samuel Barber ‘Adagio for Strings, Opus 11’, while I did write an episode negative; the neutral state was induced to listen to the subject of the song of the group Kraftwerk ‘Pocket Calculator”, while I did write a memory neutral.

After you induce these states of mood, researchers presented individuals with the history of the bridge. Then, a few individuals were asked to respond to a question, call the “condition-of-frame-active”, that asked the subjects if they believed that it was appropriate to be active and push the man to the tracks; others were asked to respond to the so-called “condition of frame passive”, that asked the subjects if they believed that it was appropriate to be passive and not push the man.

The researchers found that subjects induced to a good mood were more likely to agree with the question that they had submitted, regardless of how it had been formulated: if you were asked if it was ok to push, it was more likely to feel that they had to push; if you asked them if it was okay not to push, it was more likely to feel that they should not push it. And the pattern contrast is seen in individuals in a bad mood.

Remember the reader what I said above: the most frequent response to the scenario of the bridge is non-utilitarian; but the state of mind, in particular the good mood, can alter our moral sentiments negative towards the fact of sacrificing actively in the life of a person, which enables us to offer a response utilitarian: what’s right, then, would be to sacrifice to man, and it would be wrong to not do so if it is possible to save five lives.

What happens in this experiment is different: individuals in a good mood found the answer to a utilitarian, which is consistent with his good humor; but also found the answer non-utilitarian, that is just not as consistent with his state of mind. And this is because they didn’t serve the way in which the question was made.

Thus, the state of mind had the effect of validating or not the information that was presented to the subject (if it is okay to push or if he is not well), regardless of its actual content and its implications. When asking the subjects if it was ok to push, these began to consider the action of pushing; the good humor acted on that thought process by making them feel it was okay to push the man from the bridge; on the contrary, when asked if it was okay not to push, the good mood was affecting the thought process making them feel that it was okay not to push the man. The bad mood had a similar effect, but in the direction of deny both thoughts.

The authors of the article argue that it is a simplification to think that morality is based solely on moral sentiments: what he called “thought” also has an important role, and can be altered in a significant way by the mood. As the same authors argue in their conclusions, it would be desirable to make variations of this experiment with different moods good or bad mood, as well as to modify the scenario to include real-life situations.