Those who would sacrifice one person to save five others score low on one particular measure of empathy, but not other measures, according to research published this month in the scientific journal PLoS One.
The study of 2748 people by Ezequiel Gleichgerrcht of the Institute of Cognitive Neurology in Argentina and Liane Young of Boston College found individuals who experienced low levels of compassion and concern for other people were more likely to embrace utilitarian ethics, which advocates the greatest good for the greatest number — even if that means harming a minority in the process.
“Utilitarian moral judgment in the current study was specifically associated with reduced empathy and not with any of the demographic or cultural variables tested,” they wrote in the study. “Moreover, utilitarian moral judgment was determined uniquely by levels of empathic concern, independent of other aspects of empathic responding including personal distress and perspective taking.”
By Eric W. Dolan