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Moral Choices Can Be Manipulated Through Tracking Eye Movement

17 March 2015, 8:28 pm EDT By Robin Burks Tech Times
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A team of researchers recently proved that moral choices aren't as set in stone as we think: in fact, the team learned how to manipulate such choices by tracking volunteers' eye movements.  ( Daniel Richardson )

You might think that the moral decisions you make every day are always the same, but you might want to think again. Scientists recently proved that moral decisions can be manipulated by simply tracking how the eye moves from moment-to-moment.

A team of researchers from Lund University, Sweden, University College London and the University of California, Merced recently gathered volunteers for experiments on how we make our moral choices. These are the kinds of choices we make every day, from deciding to give spare change to a homeless to offering help to a stranger who asks for it.

Researchers used eye-trackers on experiment participants and studied their eye gazes after being asked moral questions. Researchers gave participants a choice between two answers and told the volunteers to choose the one they thought most moral.

However, the participants did not know that their eye movements were determined when researchers told them to make their choice. Although at times, volunteers answered randomly, researchers also made them wait until after they spent a certain amount of time looking at a target before they answered. Sometimes, researchers made participants answer immediately. Researchers also did not argue for or against particular choices and didn't do anything that would sway participants toward a particular decision.

The results showed that the target manipulated the participants' responses nearly 58 percent of the time.

"People often assume that their moral opinions are stable preferences that already exist in their hearts and minds," says Michael Spivey from the University of California, Merced, "but we hypothesized that many of your moral decisions may arise 'on the fly' as a result of how you look at and interact with your environment."

The timing of a decision is as important as the decision itself and that decision is also affected by our surroundings and what we see. That is why it is easy to manipulate moral choice through eye tracking.

"In other words, the same interplay between the brain, the hand and the eye that plays out when we reach for a cup of coffee is also involved in reasoning if something is morally right or wrong," says Daniel Richardson from University College London. "Our main contribution is to show that by controlling exactly when someone makes a decision, we can influence what they decide."

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