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Intuition/Morality Changes By Gender

26 Dec

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Luke writes in Intuitions Aren’t Shared That Way:

Stranger: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a stranger standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to thrown the switch, the five people will be saved, but the person on the side track will be killed.

Child: A train, its brakes failed, is rushing toward five people. The only way to save the five people is to throw the switch sitting next to you, which will turn the train onto a side track, thereby preventing it from killing the five people. However, there is a 12-year-old boy standing on the side track with his back turned, and if you proceed to throw the switch, the five people will be saved, but the boy on the side track will be killed.

[…]

For one thing, philosophical intuitions show gender diversity. Consider again the Stranger and Child versions of the Trolley problem. It turns out that men are less likely than women to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Stranger case, while women are less likely than men to think it is morally acceptable to throw the switch in the Child case (Zamzow & Nichols 2009).

Or, consider a thought experiment meant to illuminate the much-discussed concept of knowledge:

Peter is in his locked apartment and is reading. He decides to have a shower. He puts his book down on the coffee table. Then he takes off his watch, and also puts it on the coffee table. Then he goes into the bathroom. As Peter’s shower begins, a burglar silently breaks into Peter’s apartment. The burglar takes Peter’s watch, puts a cheap plastic watch in its place, and then leaves. Peter has only been in the shower for two minutes, and he did not hear anything.

When presented with this vignette, only 41% of men say that Peter “knows” there is a watch on the table, while 71% of women say that Peter “knows” there is a watch on the table (Starman & Friedman 2012). According to Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Starmans & Friedman ran another study using a slightly different vignette with a female protagonist, and that time only 36% of men said the protagonist “knows,” while 75% of women said she “knows.”

The story remains the same for intuitions about free will. In another study reported in Buckwalter & Stich (2010), Geoffrey Holtman presented subjects with this vignette:

Suppose scientists figure out the exact state of the universe during the Big Bang, and figure out all the laws of physics as well. They put this information into a computer, and the computer perfectly predicts everything that has ever happened. In other words, they prove that everything that happens has to happen exactly that way because of the laws of physics and everything that’s come before. In this case, is a person free to choose whether or not to murder someone?

In this study, only 35% of men, but 63% of women, said a person in this world could be free to choose whether or not to murder someone

Because most moral judgements are intuitive judgements, and people who defer to intuitive judgements more frequently are more likely to be religious, this might be another reason why women are more religious than men.

Now that I think about it, at lot of the reasons why people are religious seem to affect women more than men. The general tendency for groupthink seems to affect women more than men. Empathetic reasoning is correlated with religious belief, and it seems to be higher among women than men; professions that are stereotypically “male” are also professions where one needs less empathy (thus a higher number of psychopaths; testosterone also seems to have a link with psychopathy). Women see themselves as under more existential threat than men, including being paid less. Existential threat and income inequality are also leading indicators of religious belief. And as I linked above, feeling lonely is also correlated with increased religious belief, and women report feeling lonely more than men (even though men have less friends than women).

Since people aren’t naturally religious, and it’s overwhelmingly sociological factors that make people religious, it probably stands to reason that women are more religious than men for sociological reasons and not biological ones. Though I’m not entirely sure that someone can learn empathy, so it’s probably 90-10 sociological-biological influences; I can’t comment on the causes of gender differences in moral intuitions, though biases (and thus moral condemnation) like the fundamental attribution error seem to be less common in more collectivist societies. So it might follow that the FAE would be more common among the more individualistic gender; I sometimes jokingly call the FAE the “cat call bias” for this reason since men seem to take a woman’s negative reaction to their cat calls as reflection of some fundamental personality trait of the woman.

Gender differences in moral reasoning also have some other implications. Since these moral judgements differ by gender, it probably means there needs to be more equal representation of both genders’ views when designing moral systems to arrive at a true compromise. That is, until we iron out some system of objective morality.

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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in cognitive science, morality

 

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