Impact of uncertainty and ambiguous outcome phrasing on moral decision-making

Yiyun SHOU*, Joel OLNEY, Michael SMITHSON, Fei SONG

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The literature has shown that different types of moral dilemmas elicit discrepant decision patterns. The present research investigated the role of uncertainty in contributing to these decision patterns. Two studies were conducted to examine participants' choices in commonly used dilemmas. Study 1 showed that participants' perceived outcome probabilities were significantly associated with their moral choices, and that these associations were independent from the dilemma type. Study 2 revealed that participants had significantly less preference for killing the individual when the outcome probabilities were stated using the modal verb 'will' than when they were stated using the numerical phrasing of '100%'. Our findings illustrate a discord between experimenter and participant in the interpretation of task instructions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0233127
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding: Y.S is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Australian Discovery Early Career
Award (DE180100015) funded by the Australian Government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Shou et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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