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Keshmirian, Anita; Deroy, Ophelia; Bahrami, Bahador ORCID: 0000-0003-0802-5328 (March 2022): Many heads are more utilitarian than one. In: Cognition, Vol. 220, 104965
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Abstract

Moral judgments have a very prominent social nature, and in everyday life, they are continually shaped by discussions with others. Psychological investigations of these judgments, however, have rarely addressed the impact of social interactions. To examine the role of social interaction on moral judgments within small groups, we had groups of 4 to 5 participants judge moral dilemmas first individually and privately, then collectively and interactively, and finally individually a second time. We employed both real-life and sacrificial moral dilemmas in which the character's action or inaction violated a moral principle to benefit the greatest number of people. Participants decided if these utilitarian decisions were morally acceptable or not. In Experiment 1, we found that collective judgments in face-to-face interactions were more utilitarian than the statistical aggregate of their members compared to both first and second individual judgments. This observation supported the hypothesis that deliberation and consensus within a group transiently reduce the emotional burden of norm violation. In Experiment 2, we tested this hypothesis more directly: measuring participants' state anxiety in addition to their moral judgments before, during, and after online interactions, we found again that collectives were more utilitarian than those of individuals and that state anxiety level was reduced during and after social interaction. The utilitarian boost in collective moral judgments is probably due to the reduction of stress in the social setting.