IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Cultural differences in responses to real-life and hypothetical trolley problems


  • Natalie Gold
  • Andrew M. Colman
  • Briony D. Pulford


Trolley problems have been used in the development of moral theory and the psychological study of moral judgments and behavior. Most of this research has focused on people from the West, with implicit assumptions that moral intuitions should generalize and that moral psychology is universal. However, cultural differences may be associated with differences in moral judgments and behavior. We operationalized a trolley problem in the laboratory, with economic incentives and real-life consequences, and compared British and Chinese samples on moral behavior and judgment. We found that Chinese participants were less willing to sacrifice one person to save five others, and less likely to consider such an action to be right. In a second study using three scenarios, including the standard scenario where lives are threatened by an on-coming train, fewer Chinese than British participants were willing to take action and sacrifice one to save five, and this cultural difference was more pronounced when the consequences were less severe than death.

Suggested Citation

  • Natalie Gold & Andrew M. Colman & Briony D. Pulford, 2014. "Cultural differences in responses to real-life and hypothetical trolley problems," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 9(1), pages 65-76, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:9:y:2014:i:1:p:65-76

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Gold, Natalie & Pulford, Briony D. & Colman, Andrew M., 2013. "Your Money Or Your Life: Comparing Judgements In Trolley Problems Involving Economic And Emotional Harms, Injury And Death," Economics and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 29(02), pages 213-233, July.
    2. Adam B. Moore & N. Y. Louis Lee & Brian A. M. Clark & Andrew R. A. Conway, 2011. "In defense of the personal/impersonal distinction in moral psychology research: Cross-cultural validation of the dual process model of moral judgment," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(3), pages 186-195, April.
    3. Joseph Henrich & Steve J. Heine & Ara Norenzayan, 2010. "The Weirdest People in the World?," Working Paper Series of the German Council for Social and Economic Data 139, German Council for Social and Economic Data (RatSWD).
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Juergen Bracht & Adam Zylbersztejn, 2016. "Moral Judgments, Gender, and Social Preferences: An Experimental Study," Working Papers halshs-01382464, HAL.
    2. repec:jdm:journl:v:12:y:2017:i:3:p:280-296 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Gold, Natalie & Pulford, Briony D. & Colman, Andrew M., 2015. "Do as I Say, Don’t Do as I Do: Differences in moral judgments do not translate into differences in decisions in real-life trolley problems," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 50-61.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:9:y:2014:i:1:p:65-76. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jonathan Baron). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.