Would you Kill to Save others, ask Virtual Reality ResearchersImagine you are on a runaway train car, and on the track in front of you are five people. You can change to another track, but doing so will kill another person.
The question is, would you kill one to save five?
This is the question that a team at Michigan State University posed, using advanced virtual reality equipment to simulate the dilemma. and, according to the research, 90% of people are willing to compromise their morality if it is for the greater good. The study involved 147 people, and 133 of them chose to divert toward the single person.
Participants in the study are swaddled in the the virtual world as well as the researchers could. Rather than having the participants stare at a computer monitor or even just a really big screen, the volunteers wore video goggles that displayed a unique image to each eye. As far as the eyes could see, the volunteers were in the virtual world. Headphones were also used to convey a sense of reality. Coupled with the (admittedly dated looking) graphics, the entire experience is quite engrossing.
This study is a new take on an old experiment known as the “trolley problem.” This is a thought experiment where unwary hikers decide to take to the tracks in a ravine. Then the research participant comes barreling down the line in a train. Being in a ravine, the hikers have no way to escape. You, the driver of the train, can choose to act and kill one person or let the train continue on its way, killing 5.
Scientists have explored this problem before, but always in ways that were more abstract. this is the first time where testing has immersed volunteers in the problem and shown the results of their decision. That makes this the best simulation of the “trolley problem” yet.
Scientists also discovered that those who didn’t flip the switch appeared to be emotionally aroused, though the scientists would need a larger study to say whether that is more than just a random pattern. The scientists hypothesized that this arousal might be because people tent to freeze in tense situations. Basically, people need to override some setting in their brain keeping them from doing something horrible, much like a new soldier freezing in combat.
"I think humans have an aversion to harming others that needs to be overridden by something," said Carlos David Navarrete, the projects chief researcher. "By rational thinking we can sometimes override it – by thinking about the people we will save, for example. But for some people, that increase in anxiety may be so overpowering that they don't make the utilitarian choice, the choice for the greater good."
Photo by : SMI Eye Tracking