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Moral dilemmas and trust in leaders during a global health crisis


Everett, Jim A C; Colombatto, Clara; Awad, Edmond; Boggio, Paulo; et al; Maréchal, Michel André; Mathys, Christoph; Senn, Julien; Sul, Sunhae (2021). Moral dilemmas and trust in leaders during a global health crisis. Nature Human Behaviour, 5(8):1074-1088.

Abstract

Trust in leaders is central to citizen compliance with public policies. One potential determinant of trust is how leaders resolve conflicts between utilitarian and non-utilitarian ethical principles in moral dilemmas. Past research suggests that utilitarian responses to dilemmas can both erode and enhance trust in leaders: sacrificing some people to save many others (‘instrumental harm’) reduces trust, while maximizing the welfare of everyone equally (‘impartial beneficence’) may increase trust. In a multi-site experiment spanning 22 countries on six continents, participants (N = 23,929) completed self-report (N = 17,591) and behavioural (N = 12,638) measures of trust in leaders who endorsed utilitarian or non-utilitarian principles in dilemmas concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Across both the self-report and behavioural measures, endorsement of instrumental harm decreased trust, while endorsement of impartial beneficence increased trust. These results show how support for different ethical principles can impact trust in leaders, and inform effective public communication during times of global crisis.

Abstract

Trust in leaders is central to citizen compliance with public policies. One potential determinant of trust is how leaders resolve conflicts between utilitarian and non-utilitarian ethical principles in moral dilemmas. Past research suggests that utilitarian responses to dilemmas can both erode and enhance trust in leaders: sacrificing some people to save many others (‘instrumental harm’) reduces trust, while maximizing the welfare of everyone equally (‘impartial beneficence’) may increase trust. In a multi-site experiment spanning 22 countries on six continents, participants (N = 23,929) completed self-report (N = 17,591) and behavioural (N = 12,638) measures of trust in leaders who endorsed utilitarian or non-utilitarian principles in dilemmas concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Across both the self-report and behavioural measures, endorsement of instrumental harm decreased trust, while endorsement of impartial beneficence increased trust. These results show how support for different ethical principles can impact trust in leaders, and inform effective public communication during times of global crisis.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Social Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Life Sciences > Behavioral Neuroscience
Uncontrolled Keywords:Ethics, human behaviour
Language:English
Date:1 August 2021
Deposited On:23 Aug 2021 09:11
Last Modified:20 Sep 2021 11:13
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2397-3374
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01156-y

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