• Alcohol, empathy, and morality: acute effects of alcohol consumption on affective empathy and moral decision-making

      Francis, Kathryn B.; Gummerum, M.; Ganis, G.; Howard, I.S.; Terbeck, S. (Springer, 2019-07)
      Rationale: Hypothetical moral dilemmas, pitting characteristically utilitarian and non-utilitarian outcomes against each other, have played a central role in investigations of moral decision-making. Preferences for utilitarian over non-utilitarian responses have been explained by two contrasting hypotheses; one implicating increased deliberative reasoning, and the other implicating diminished harm aversion. In recent field experiments, these hypotheses have been investigated using alcohol intoxication to impair both social and cognitive functioning. These studies have found increased utilitarian responding, arguably as a result of alcohol impairing affective empathy. Objectives: The present research expands existing investigations by examining the acute effects of alcohol on affective empathy and subsequent moral judgments in traditional vignettes and moral actions in virtual reality, as well as physiological responses in moral dilemmas. Methods: Participants (N = 48) were administered either a placebo or alcohol in one of two dosages; low or moderate. Both pre- and post intervention, participants completed a moral action and moral judgment task alongside behavioural measures of affective empathy. Results: Higher dosages of alcohol consumption resulted in inappropriate empathic responses to facial displays of emotion, mirroring responses of individuals high in trait psychopathy, but empathy for pain was unaffected. Whilst affective empathy was influenced by alcohol consumption in a facial responding task, both moral judgments and moral actions were unaffected. Conclusions: These results suggest that facets, beyond or in addition to deficits in affective empathy, might influence the relationship between alcohol consumption and utilitarian endorsements.
    • The experimental psychology of moral enhancement: We should if we could, but we can't

      Terbeck, S.; Francis, Kathryn B. (2018-10-16)
      In this chapter we will review experimental evidence related to pharmacological moral enhancement. Firstly, we will present our recent study in which we found that a drug called propranolol could change moral judgements. Further research, which also investigated this, found similar results. Secondly, we will discuss the limitations of such approaches, when it comes to the idea of general “human enhancement”. Whilst promising effects on certain moral concepts might be beneficial to the development of theoretical moral psychology, enhancement of human moral behaviour in general – to our current understanding – has more side-effects than intended effects, making it potentially harmful. We give an overview of misconceptions when taking experimental findings beyond the laboratory and discuss the problems and solutions associated with the psychological assessment of moral behaviour. Indeed, how is morality “measured” in psychology, and are those measures reliable?
    • Simulating moral actions: An investigation of personal force in virtual moral dilemmas

      Francis, Kathryn B.; Terbeck, S.; Briazu, R.A.; Haines, A.; Gummerum, M.; Ganis, G.; Howard, I.S. (2017-10-24)
      Advances in Virtual Reality (VR) technologies allow the investigation of simulated moral actions in visually immersive environments. Using a robotic manipulandum and an interactive sculpture, we now also incorporate realistic haptic feedback into virtual moral simulations. In two experiments, we found that participants responded with greater utilitarian actions in virtual and haptic environments when compared to traditional questionnaire assessments of moral judgments. In experiment one, when incorporating a robotic manipulandum, we found that the physical power of simulated utilitarian responses (calculated as the product of force and speed) was predicted by individual levels of psychopathy. In experiment two, which integrated an interactive and life-like sculpture of a human into a VR simulation, greater utilitarian actions continued to be observed. Together, these results support a disparity between simulated moral action and moral judgment. Overall this research combines state-of-the-art virtual reality, robotic movement simulations, and realistic human sculptures, to enhance moral paradigms that are often contextually impoverished. As such, this combination provides a better assessment of simulated moral action, and illustrates the embodied nature of morally-relevant actions.
    • Virtual morality in the helping professions: Simulated action and resilience

      Francis, Kathryn B.; Gummerum, M.; Ganis, G.; Howard, I.S.; Terbeck, S. (2018-08)
      Recent advances in virtual technologies have allowed the investigation of simulated moral actions in aversive moral dilemmas. Previous studies have employed diverse populations to explore these actions, with little research considering the significance of occupation on moral decision‐making. For the first time, in this study we have investigated simulated moral actions in virtual reality made by professionally trained paramedics and fire service incident commanders who are frequently faced with and must respond to moral dilemmas. We found that specially trained individuals showed distinct empathic and related personality trait scores and that these declined with years of experience working in the profession. Supporting the theory that these professionals develop resilience in moral conflict, reduced emotional arousal was observed during virtual simulations of a distressing dilemma. Furthermore, trained professionals demonstrated less regret following the execution of a moral action in virtual reality when compared to untrained control populations. We showed that, contrary to previous research, trained individuals made the same moral judgements and moral actions as untrained individuals, though showing less arousal and regret. In the face of increasing concerns regarding empathy decline in health care professionals, we suggest that the nature of this decline is complex and likely reflects the development of a necessary emotional resilience to distressing events.
    • Virtual morality: Transitioning from moral judgment to moral action?

      Francis, Kathryn B.; Howard, C.; Howard, I.S.; Gummerum, M.; Ganis, G.; Anderson, G.; Terbeck, S. (2016-10-10)
      The nature of moral action versus moral judgment has been extensively debated in numerous disciplines. We introduce Virtual Reality (VR) moral paradigms examining the action individuals take in a high emotionally arousing, direct action-focused, moral scenario. In two studies involving qualitatively different populations, we found a greater endorsement of utilitarian responses±killing one in order to save many others±when action was required in moral virtual dilemmas compared to their judgment counterparts. Heart rate in virtual moral dilemmas was significantly increased when compared to both judgment counterparts and control virtual tasks. Our research suggests that moral action may be viewed as an independent construct to moral judgment, with VR methods delivering new prospects for investigating and assessing moral behaviour.