Career Choices and Moral Choices. Changing Tracks in the Trolley Problem

Joanna Dzionek-Kozlowska, University of Lodz
Sharaf Rehman, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Original published version available at


Numerous authors indicate that the influence of academic education extends beyond the growth of specialized knowledge gained by the graduates. Scholars are trying to identify and examine the potential impact of higher learning on students’ attitudes and choices. One of the dimensions considered by the researchers is the effect of university training on students’ moral choices. Our paper attempts to identify differences between the students’ declared moral choices and their majors (fields of studies). Working with a sample of university students of Economics and Sociology (N = 181), and using three variants of the Trolley Problem, the subjects’ responses are used to identify the similarities and differences between their choices. The participants were asked to respond to three hypothetical situations regarding a runaway trolley. Their decision in the first scenario could save a person’s life or let her be run over by the trolley. In the second scenario, their decision could either let one person die and save five lives or save one life and let five people be killed. These two scenarios required pulling a lever to switch the trolley from one track to another. The third scenario requires pushing an obese person in front of the runaway trolley to stop it from killing five persons. As expected, we found a significant difference between the two groups (the economists and the sociologists) in the case of our third scenario, however, we found no evidence supporting the indoctrination hypothesis. We conclude that the existing differences between the choices made by the future economists and sociologists may support the preselection hypothesis.