The Trolley Problem in Real Life | Summary and Q&A

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December 6, 2017
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The Trolley Problem in Real Life

TL;DR

In an experiment inspired by the trolley problem, participants are faced with the decision of whether to switch train tracks, potentially sacrificing one life to save five others. Results show that people's actions in high-pressure moral dilemmas often differ from what they believe they would do.

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Questions & Answers

Q: What is the trolley problem?

The trolley problem is a philosophical thought experiment that presents a moral dilemma of choosing between sacrificing one person to save five or doing nothing and letting five people die.

Q: What did the real-life experiment involving the trolley problem reveal?

The experiment showed that people's actions in high-pressure moral situations often differ from what they believe they would do. Most participants hesitated to switch the tracks, despite stating that they would make the utilitarian choice of saving more lives.

Q: What factors influenced participants' decisions in the experiment?

Participants' decisions were influenced by factors such as a sense of responsibility, fear of making the wrong choice, the belief that someone else would intervene, and the lack of direct involvement or consequences.

Q: How can the trolley problem be applied in real-life situations like self-driving cars?

The trolley problem has implications for ethical decision-making in autonomous vehicles. It raises questions about how to program self-driving cars to make split-second decisions in potential accidents, such as choosing between hitting pedestrians or swerving and potentially causing harm to a different person.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The trolley problem, a thought experiment created in 1967, poses a moral dilemma of choosing between diverting a runaway train to save five people or doing nothing and letting the train kill them while sparing one person.

  • An experiment is conducted to replicate the trolley problem in a realistic railroad switching station, where participants watch staged videos of workers on train tracks and have the option to switch the tracks to save or sacrifice lives using a lever.

  • Most participants freeze and hesitate to act, despite their belief that they would pull the lever to save more lives. This highlights a discrepancy between stated moral beliefs and actions during high-pressure situations.

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