Listening to my Inquiring Minds podcast today, the subject of morality was discussed, which led to talk of the example of the “trolley problem”:
To quote from Wikipedia:
“The general form of the problem is this: There is a runaway trolley barrelling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. Unfortunately, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You do not have the ability to operate the lever in a way that would cause the trolley to derail without loss of life (for example, holding the lever in an intermediate position so that the trolley goes between the two sets of tracks, or pulling the lever after the front wheels pass the switch, but before the rear wheels do). You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?”
Now, the utilitarian view of morality predicts that people should choose to pull the lever killing only one person versus five. Generally, the studies suggest people often choose option #2, as would be predicted by the utilitarian theory. However, this result changes with slight variations in the scenario. For instance, when people are asked if they would push a person on a lever that would switch the tracks (instead of pulling the lever themselves as in scenario #2), far fewer people would choose to do so.
This trolley problem was recently investigated by Navarrete et al. (2012) (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22103331) using virtual reality and measuring their emotional reaction (at Michigan State University). Their results confirmed prior findings.
My question is how does drug use affects or be affected by our individual moral decision making. For instance, are people who are more utilitarian more likely to use legal and illegal drugs? Conversely, does using legal or illegal drugs make one more or less utilitarian? Since much drug use is a criminal act, and for many an immoral one, could this variation help explain why some people choose to use drugs?
This question has been studied most recently by Kornriech et al. (2013), Carmona-Perera et al. (2012), and Khemiri et al. (2012):
Polysubstance dependent patients display a more utilitarian profile in moral decision-making than alcohol-dependent patients, depressive patients and controls
Moral decision-making in polysubstance dependent individuals
Alcohol dependence associated with increased utilitarian moral judgment: a case control study