Moral choices: The influence of the “Do not play God” principle

Amelia Gangemi, Francesco Mancini (2013): Moral choices: The influence of the “Do not play God” principle. Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Cognitive Science Society Cooperative minds: Social Interaction and group dynamics, 2013.


A wide literature demonstrates that people prefer harm caused by omissions over equal or lesser harm caused by actions. This omission bias has been explained referring to several principles, such as causality or responsibility. A convincing research view has been suggested by Sunstein (2005): harmful acts are generally worse than harmful omissions when moral intuitions reflect the “Do not play God” principle: inactions interfere less with the “natural order.” In two preliminary studies, we examine the influence of the “Do not play God” principle on individuals moral preferences, using the switch version of the trolley problem. Study 1 demonstrates that our participants’ justifications for their inaction choice explicitly refer to the intention of not interfering with the “natural order”. Study 2 demonstrates that the presence of stimuli influencing a reduction of protagonist’s decisional autonomy (e.g. an authority) activates the “Do not play God” principle, leading them to prefer inaction.