Moral judgments under uncertainty: risk, ambiguity and commission bias

Fei SONG, Yiyun SHOU*, Joel OLNEY, Felix S. H. YEUNG

*Corresponding author for this work

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

1 Citation (Scopus)


Previous research on moral dilemmas has mainly focused on decisions made under conditions of probabilistic certainty. We investigated the impact of uncertainty on the preference for action (killing one individual to save five people) and inaction (saving one but allowing five people to die) in moral dilemmas. We reported two experimental studies that varied the framing (gain vs loss), levels of risk (probability of gain and loss) and levels of ambiguity (imprecise probability information) in the choice to save five individuals by sacrificing one. We found that participants preferred actions with uncertainty (risk/ambiguity) over inaction. Specifically, we found that participants preferred actions with precise probability information (risk) over inaction, and they preferred actions with modest or high levels of ambiguity over actions with precise probabilities, especially when moral dilemmas had a loss frame. We also observed commission bias in Study 2. We discussed the implications for research in moral decision-making.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Open Access funding enabled and organized by CAUL and its Member Institutions. This research is supported by the Faculty Research Grant (101893) from Lingnan University, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Ambiguity
  • Commission Bias
  • Moral Dilemmas
  • Moral judgements
  • Risk


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