Morality Under Uncertainty: The impact of moral framing on spatial decision making

Project Award: $17,314.50

Recent research on the topic of decision-making suggests that participants make suboptimal decisions involving spatial cues in a risky environment. Participants appear to neither maximize gain nor minimize risk in a task in which they are told to identify the locus of a target that is located in close proximity of a penalty. Given that previous research has suggested that the moral or social frame of decisions can result in participants having an alternative judgment in said task, and that there is evidence that participants behave differently in morally salient perceptual tasks when compared to controls, we propose a set of studies to investigate if the moral framing of perceptual decision tasks results in a difference in the character of the decisions participants make. First, our project involves the use of moral and nonmoral scenarios in risky decision-making tasks, to determine the degree to which participants choose in a more or less optimal manner in a morally characterized task. With this, we can determine if any decision frame has an effect when compared to previous research, and if the moral decision frame has a unique effect. Second, we intend to test for the moral disposition of the participant, in order to determine if the effect and the direction of the moral framing correlates with the degree with which the participant is dispositionally a utilitarian or deontologist. This allows us to determine if moral disposition is predictive of decision-making in spatial tasks, and if differences in disposition track trends in interpretation of success in a spatial task that involves both risk and reward. Third, we intend to pair the behavioral research with neuroimaging, in order to determine what neural network is implicated by activity in the task, and compare it to a previously identified network putatively implicated in decision-making. If we uncover systematic behavioral differences, we wish to investigate the relationships between the networks that underlie the actions represented by the respective behavioral trends. This will elucidate the neural correlates of moral decision-making by implementing a type of stimulus that is under-investigated in moral psychology. Moreover, it helps clarify the degree to which neural networks are conserved across tasks that are prima facie similar to one another, by attempting to elicit dissimilar behaviors from participants. Finally, it will facilitate a better understanding of the circumstances under which decision-making behaviors vary, and the degree to which the character of situation surrounding the decision results in alternative behavior trends.

Team members:

 David Colaco, PhD Student,History of Philosophy and Science, University of Pittsburgh and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

David Colaco, PhD Student,History of Philosophy and Science, University of Pittsburgh and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

 Kevin Jarbo, PhD Student Psychology, Carnegie Mellon

Kevin Jarbo, PhD Student Psychology, Carnegie Mellon