If you could travel back before World War II, would you kill a young Adolf Hitler to change the course of history and save millions of lives?
According to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, women are more likely than men to say they would let a young Hitler live.
A study found that when asked hypothetically if they could travel back in time and kill a young Hitler, women were more likely to say they would let Hitler live. (Image source: Jewish Virtual Library)
Reviewing answers from 40 previous studies with 6,100 participants about various moral dilemmas, researchers said women are more likely to be conflicted over the morality of killing one man, even if it could save far more lives.
“Women seem to be more likely to have this negative, emotional, gut-level reaction to causing harm to people in the dilemmas, to the one person, whereas men were less likely to express this strong emotional reaction to harm," study author Rebecca Friesdorf, a master’s student in social psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, told NPR.
Every question in the study had two scenarios, each with slightly different consequences in order to tease out different ways of thinking about the dilemma. Some people are motivated by consequences, weighing costs and benefits to make a decision. Others dwell on the act of killing Hitler, because it defies moral norms. Philosophers would label the first group as utilitarians, and the second group as deontologists. The latter are more likely to let Hitler live.
Besides the Hitler scenario, the study looked at the hypothetical case of the head of a poor household with failing crops who has no way to feed his family. Should he send his daughter to appear in sexually explicit films and thus earn enough money to feed the entire family?
“Very few people say yes you should do it, even though it will save the rest of the family," Friesdorf told NPR.
She found that women had more difficulty reaching a decision.
"Women seem to be feeling more equal levels of both emotion and cognition. They seem to be experiencing similar levels of both, so it's more difficult for them to make their choice," Friesdorf said.