Can you give emotionally informed yet reasoned responses to moral questions within 3 seconds?

Could you give a 3-second informed decision that reflected your true feelings about this statement?

“Inflicting emotional harm is just as bad as inflicting physical harm.”

Could you then express your confidence about your answer on a 1-7 scale within 1 second? How about your 3-second response to this statement?

“Developing a child’s character is central to raising it good.”

The researchers of this 2015 Swedish study asserted that it:

“Demonstrates that moral choices are no different from their preferential and perceptual counterparts; they are highly constrained and coupled to the immediate environment through sensory interaction.”

Thus the subjects’ moral choices about statements such as:

“One should never intentionally harm another person.”

weren’t weighted any differently than their “top of the head” answers to questions such as:

“Is Denmark larger than Sweden?”


There was a time limit of 3 seconds for the subjects to answer 63 “moral” and 35 “factual” questions. The subjects were asked to express their confidence in the answer during an additional 1-second time frame. Answers after these time limits were discarded.

In the supplementary material, the researchers:

“Justified our design. When no time-out condition was included, 33% of participants realized that their eye movements were influencing the timing of the trial.”

So the 3-second time frame was imposed to keep the subjects from gaming the experiment. The experiment’s time limit of 3 seconds didn’t have anything to do with properly modeling moral decision-making.


The time period wasn’t the only area I questioned. The researchers focused on eye gaze as the important homogenous factor influencing the subjects as they made their “moral” choices.

However, that one person’s eye gaze is not necessarily the same as the next person’s was demonstrated by studies such as:

An individual’s attention and perception that are incorporated into their eye gaze are behaviors that may have many differing historical components. For example, one subject may have kept their gaze on the:

“Value animals equally.”

answer to the:

“Animal welfare should not be valued equally with human welfare.”

question because their initial reaction involved their cuddly pet. Another subject may have kept their gaze on the same answer because their initial reaction involved a stray dog that attacked them.


Did the study shed light on its initial statement?

“Moral cognition arises from the interplay between emotion and reason.”

I didn’t see that the study’s design allowed its subjects to produce emotionally informed yet reasoned responses to the 98-question battery.


http://www.pnas.org/content/112/13/4170.full “Biasing moral decisions by exploiting the dynamics of eye gaze”

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