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Should More Be Saved? Diversity in Utilitarian Moral Judgment

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In three experiments involving 104 children and 86 adults we investigated the extent to which harm brought about by physical contact is judged to be worse than harm caused by impersonal, no-contact actions. In Experiment 1, Italian monolingual children aged 4 to 6 were asked to indicate whether they would prioritize saving five persons through contact over saving three persons without contact with both courses of action involving harm to a single victim. A preference for saving more persons did not emerge until the age of 6 years. By contrast, in Experiment 2, children with a Slovenian-Italian linguistic and cultural background judged that to save five with contact was preferable even at the age of 4 and 5 years. In Experiment 3, Slovenian-Italian adults were also significantly more likely than Italian-only speakers to advocate using contact, although in a direct comparison, both groups prioritized saving five over three persons, regardless of the means. Moral diversity is discussed in terms of cultural and linguistic constraints that may serve to mediate the use of considerations of contact in an intuitive moral psychology.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Via S. Anastasio 12, 34134 Trieste, Italy; 2: Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Via S. Anastasio 12, 34134 Trieste, Italy, Department of Psychology, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TP, UK;, Email:


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