Time and moral judgment

Cognition. 2011 Jun;119(3):454-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.01.018. Epub 2011 Feb 26.


Do moral judgments hinge on the time available to render them? According to a recent dual-process model of moral judgment, moral dilemmas that engage emotional processes are likely to result in fast deontological gut reactions. In contrast, consequentialist responses that tot up lives saved and lost in response to such dilemmas would require cognitive control to override the initial response. Cognitive control, however, takes time. In two experiments, we manipulated the time available to arrive at moral judgments in two ways: by allotting a fixed short or large amount of time, and by nudging people to answer swiftly or to deliberate thoroughly. We found that faster responses indeed lead to more deontological responses among those moral dilemmas in which the killing of one to save many necessitates manhandling an innocent person and in which this action is depicted as a means to an end. Thus, our results are the first demonstration that inhibiting cognitive control through manipulations of time alters moral judgments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Morals*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult