How To Tell Whether A Person Is Moral Instantly

How can you find out whether a person’s character is flawed? Look at how fast that person makes immoral or moral decisions. Consider the following scenario:

‘Andy and Bob were two hospital directors who had to decide whether to perform an expensive surgery to save a patient in need of an organ transplant, or to use the money to buy new equipment for the hospital. Andy decided instantly to buy new equipment; Bob deliberated for some time before deciding to spend the money on hospital equipment.’

Both of them had arrived at the same decision. Who has lower moral standards—Andy or Bob?

According to research findings, despite making the same immoral decision of letting the patient die, most people will evaluate Andy more negatively than Bob. Why? It has all got to do with decision-making speed—Andy had took less time to make his decision.

While we generally make moral evaluations of other people based on the obvious outcomes of their actions or decisions (e.g., both Andy and Bob are immoral since they decided to let the patient die), researchers believe that many other subtle processes can also influence our evaluations, which in this case, is the speed with which the decision is made.

Decision speed can reveal a person’s true underlying character as it reflects how certain that person is over his or her decision. For instance, Andy is seen as less moral as his quick decision made it seem as though he was very certain that he would rather buy equipment than save the patient. In other words, he was pure evil because it appears that it had never occurred to him that he should save the patient.

Although Bob had arrived at the same decision, his deliberation made him appear slightly more moral (evil nonetheless) than Andy. Bob’s slower decision-making speed suggested that he was probably in a dilemma. Unlike Andy, Bob’s morally (slightly) better as he had at least considered saving the patient, even though he did not do so eventually. Of course, this is assuming that Bob had not spent his time wondering whether that money was sufficient to buy the best equipment—if that was the case, he would simply be incorrigible.

This also applies when making good or moral decisions—people who decide to act in a prosocial manner quickly will also be evaluated more positively than people who make the same decision slowly. So if both Andy and Bob had decided to save the patient, Andy would then be seen as the more virtuous director, since his quickness of decision would reflect his certainty and hence his upright character.

Next time, don’t just focus on the decisions that people around you have made—look at how those decisions have been made as well. Also, it would be interesting to try to see how fast we, ourselves, make decisions.

Do you agree that decision-making speed is an indication of certainty? Share your thoughts.

Source: Critcher, C. R., Inbar, Y., & Pizarro, D. A. (2012). How quick decisions illuminate moral character. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi:10.1177/1948550612457688

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