Perhaps most revealing is what Pizarro calls the “Kill Whitey” study. This was a footbridge problem — two variations on a footbridge problem in one, actually — that the team presented to 238 California undergrads. The undergrads were of mixed race, ethnicity and political leanings. Before they faced the problem, 87 percent of them said they did not consider race or nationality a relevant factor in moral decisions. Here the paper‘s (.pdf) description of the problem they faced:Motivated Moral Reasoning (pdf):[. . .] Half of the participants received a version of the scenario where the agent could choose to sacrifice an individual named “Tyrone Payton” to save 100 members of the New York Philharmonic, and the other half received a version where the agent could choose to sacrifice “Chip Ellsworth III” to save 100 members of the Harlem Jazz Orchestra. In both scenarios the individual decides to throw the person onto the trolley tracks.
[. . .] Turned out the racial identities did indeed color peoples’ judgments — but it colored them differently depending on their political bent. Pizarro, who describes himself as a person who “would probably be graded a liberal on tests,” roughly expected that liberals would be more consistent. Yet liberals proved just as prejudiced here as conservatives were, but in reverse: While self-described conservatives more readily accepted the sacrifice of Tyrone than they did killing Chip, the liberals were easier about seeing Chip sacrificed than Tyrone. [. . .]
They offered some other scenarios too, about collateral damage in military situations, for instance, and found similar differences: Conservatives accepted collateral damage more easily if the dead were Iraqis than if they were Americans, while liberals accepted civilian deaths more readily if the dead were Americans rather than Iraqis.
What did this say about people’s morals? Not that they don’t have any. It suggests that they had more than one set of morals, one more consequentialist than another, and choose to fit the situation. [. . .]
Or as Pizarro told me on the phone, “The idea is not that people are or are not utilitarian; it’s that they will cite being utilitarian when it behooves them. People are aren’t using these principles and then applying them. They arrive at a judgment and seek a principle.”
Taken together then, the results of our Chip and Tyrone studies show good evidence of motivated recruitment of moral principles, at least among political liberals. But why were the effects limited to our liberal participants (in two different studies using two different moral dilemmas and two different study samples)? Our speculation is that egalitarian considerations, especially those relevant to race, play a greater role in influencing liberals’ judgments compared to conservatives. A recent meta-analysis by Jost et al. (2003) indicates that one of the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives lies in conservative’s greater tolerance for social inequality. Research on the moral foundations underlying liberal and conservative ideologies also suggests that fairness concerns are particularly acute for political liberals (Haidt and Graham, 2007), and race is likely the key symbol evoking these concerns in contemporary America. As such, we believe that this particular situation simply held more motivational power for liberals than conservatives. Our Chip–Tyrone manipulation faced liberals with choices sure to alert their sensitivity to inequality, and they likely felt more negative affect when asked to sacrifice a Black life than a White life (especially a White person with a vaguely aristocratic-sounding name). Conservatives, on the other hand, not overtly prejudiced but simply lacking liberals’ highly accessible intuitions regarding inequality, tended to respond in a more evenhanded fashion (both affectively and cognitively). This pattern is consistent with a number of recent studies (e.g., Norton et al., 2004) showing that college student samples (which are often skewed liberal) tend to show what might be called a ‘‘political correctness’’ bias in racial issues.