Japanese Journal of Social Psychology
Online ISSN : 2189-1338
Print ISSN : 0916-1503
ISSN-L : 0916-1503
What causes cross-cultural differences in reactions to the Trolley Problem? A cross-cultural study on the roles of relational mobility and reputation expectation
Shoko YamamotoMasaki Yuki
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2019 Volume 35 Issue 2 Pages 61-71


The Trolley Problem is a well-known moral dilemma that deals with the morality of saving many people’s lives at the expense of a smaller number of others. A recent cross-cultural study found that, while the morality rating attributed to the action did not differ, there was a cultural difference in participants’ intention to act in a given way. From a socioecological perspective, we propose that this could be due to cross-societal differences in the expected reputation that others would assign to the actor for performing the action, which in turn stems from different levels of relational mobility in the respective social ecology. Supporting our theory, a vignette study with US and Japanese participants showed that 1) while there was no cultural difference in morality ratings, among those who judged the action to be morally correct, the Japanese participants showed less action intention than the American participants; 2) the Japanese participants expected a less positive reputation for their action from others than did the American participants; and 3) the weaker action intention among the Japanese participants was associated with the smaller relational mobility and weaker positive reputation expected for action.

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© 2019 The Japanese Society of Social Psychology
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