Study: Women Less Likely To Travel Back In Time To Kill Hitler, So Don't Put Them In Charge Of That

As everyone knows, an important part of any good social science study's research design is throwing in some element that will get you into the media without being so outlandish that people dismiss your study altogether, and this month's prize goes to Rebecca Friesdorf, a Master's student in social psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. She skates right on the edge of that dilemma by including a question about whether it would be morally acceptable to go back in time to kill Adolf Hitler as part of a study on how people make moral decisions recently published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. We say she wins.

Working with data sets from 40 different previous studies of moral dilemmas -- including the "would it be OK to kill Hitler to prevent WWII" -- Friesdorf found that while both men and women considered overall consequences like the total of lives that might be lost, women tended to feel more conflicted than men over even a hypothetical murder in order to save others. "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," Friesdorf 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.

Friesdorf acknowledged that the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff involved in the Hitler example was the most science-fictional example, so other moral dilemmas were rooted in situations less likely to cause people to reject the question out of hand because they don't think time travel possible.

Another question in the study is called the "Hard Times" dilemma:

You are the head of a poor household in a developing country. Your crops have failed for the second year in a row, and it appears that you have no way to feed your family. Your sons, ages 8 and 10, are too young to go off to the city where there are jobs, but your daughter could fare better.

"You know a man from your village who lives in the city and who makes sexually explicit films featuring girls such as your daughter. In front of your daughter, he tells you that in one year of working in his studio, your daughter could earn enough money to keep your family fed for several growing seasons.

"Is it appropriate for you to employ your daughter in the pornography industry in order to feed your family?"

Friesdorf said that very few people would prostitute a hypothetical daughter, even though it saves the rest of the family. We would like to know more about the situation. For one thing, are the Johns going to be from the U.S. Secret Service? Those assholes don't even pay their hookers.

Friesdorf also asked subjects to rate how difficult it was to decide which possible course of action to follow. Women tended to find the moral dilemmas more difficult that men did; Friesdorf "hypothesizes that this is because they feel more conflict between weighing benefits and harms versus following society's moral rules."

"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," she says.

And while most of us will never have to decide whether to sell Hitler's daughter into prostitution, we do face small-scale choices on questions of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, like whether to make a Star Trek reference that most people will get, or something more obscure, like a joke about whether it's OK to let Hortas go extinct just to mine pergium?

Also, why do we have a feeling that some Nimrod's going to decide that this is just one more reason why women shouldn't be in leadership roles?

Not accounted for in Friesdorf's work, and no doubt a factor that she will expand on in further studies, is the basic fact that for time travel to be possible at all, you can't go around killing Hitler willy-nilly, because as noted Killing Hitler researcher Desmond Warzel notes, it's right there in Bulletin 1147 of the Time Travel Wiki FAQ:

Permit me to sum it up and save you the trouble: no Hitler means no Third Reich, no World War II, no rocketry programs, no electronics, no computers, no time travel. Get the picture?

Damn it people, this isn't rocket science.

[NPR via Haaretz via RawStory / Wikihistory (the second best time-travel story ever written, after Heinlein's "All You Zombies...")]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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