Philosophers and psychologists have long been interested in identifying factors that influence moral judgment. The current analysis compares the literatures on moral psychology and decision-making under uncertainty to propose that utilitarian choices are driven by the same forces that lead to risky choices. Spanning from neurocognitive to hormonal to interpersonal levels of analysis, we identify six antecedents that increase both utilitarian and risky choices (vmPFC brain lesions, psychopathology, testosterone, incidental positive affect, power, and social connection) and one antecedent that reduces these choices (serotonin activity). We identify the regulation of negative affect as a common mechanism that explains the effects of each antecedent on utilitarian and risky choices. By demonstrating that the same forces and the same underlying mechanism that produce risky choices also promote utilitarian choices, we offer a deeper understanding of how basic psychological systems underlie moral judgment.

Brian J. Lucas and Adam Galinsky
Journal Article
Publication Date
Perspectives on Psychological Science

Full Citation

Lucas, Brian J. and Adam Galinsky
. “Is utilitarianism risky? How the same antecedents and mechanism produce both utilitarian and risky choices.”
Perspectives on Psychological Science
, (July 01, 2015):