Sacrificing Oneself or Another: The Difference Between Prescriptive and Normative Judgments in Moral Evaluation


When asked whether to sacrifice oneself or another person to save others, one might think that people would consider sacrificing themselves rather than someone else as the right and appropriate course of action—thus showing an other-serving bias. So far however, most studies found instances of a self-serving bias—people say they would rather sacrifice others. In three experiments using trolley-like dilemmas, we tested whether an other-serving bias might appear as a function of judgment type. That is, participants were asked to make a prescriptive judgment (whether the described action should or should not be done) or a normative judgment (whether the action is right or wrong). We found that participants exhibited an other-serving bias only when asked whether self- or other-sacrifice is wrong. That is, when the judgment was normative and in a negative frame (in contrast to the positive frame asking whether the sacrifice is right). Otherwise, participants tended to exhibit a self-serving bias; that is, they approved sacrificing others more. The results underscore the importance of question wording and suggest that some effects on moral judgment might depend on the type of judgment.

Psychological Reports

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