Do thought experiments in ethics have external validity?

A runaway train car is on its way to kill five people on the tracks. You have the power to direct it to a sidetrack on which there is only one person. Do you do it?

A well known thought experiments in ethics. However, will people’s judgments when thinking about such cases transfer to the real world? A group of researchers constructed virtual realities to improve the realisticness of the scenarios. Their finding: People acted in a more utilitarian way (sacrifice the one to save the five) in the virtual reality than in the text case. The virtual reality scenarios were deemed to be more emotionally arousing as measured by skin conductance.

H/t: Gary King

(Note: Very small sample size – 38.)

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