In 2017 a study titled, “Is pulling the lever sexy? Deontology as a downstream cue to long-term mate quality“ was published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
The authors of the study claim that a man’s morals has a lot to do with his chances to get in a romantic relationship.
Especially when it comes to a long-term one. According to the results of the research, women take into consideration men’s moral choices when starting a relationship. In fact, if they seek a serious commitment the ladies would be much more interested in men whose decisions are based on their own rules says the study.
The research compared deontological ethics (which includes decisions that follow a morals rule) on the one hand with utilitarian ethics on the other hand.
The latter is based on decisions made because of the consequences an action could bring. To explore the differences between these two ethics the researchers used the so-called Trolley Problem which is a thought experiment in ethics. It is explained below – You are standing next to a lever with which you can control a switch. You see a runaway trolley that is going straight to 5 incapacitated people lying on the tracks. In case you pull the lever, the trolley will go onto a side track where only one person is lying. Now you need to make a choice. Pull the lever and save 5 people at the price of killing one. Or do nothing and save one life while killing 5 other people.
The study’s main author Mitchell Brown, who is also a graduate student at the University of Southern Mississippi says that he and the coauthor Donald F. Sacco. chose the dual-processes theory of morality because it could show the advantages of adaptation provided by deontology and utilitarianism.
They conducted the research because there weren’t any discussions on morality in mating.
And according to Brown people’s behavior in a social environment is a telltale sign which could reveal their ability to find a suitable partner. So it was worth studying that.
The research’s aim was to examine different traits of men that are, however, needed only in specific types of partnerships. Like for example in short or long-term relationships.
Two studies were conducted and 214 women in total took part in them. In the end, the two groups which participated reported similar conclusions. It turned out that the ladies preferred partners who made deontological decisions but only for long-term partnerships. For short-term ones men who made deontological decisions were regarded as unsuitable. According to the author, this is the case because short-term mating is mainly related to good genes and agentic behavior. And men whose decisions are utilitarian or in other words taken according to the consequences of their actions are more likely to exhibit these traits. In addition to that, the latter would also cheat much more often compared to the men whose decisions are deontological.
So, it turns out that different aspects of a man’s behavior are considered important depending on the type of mating.
However, there are some conditions and limitations regarding the study.
“The biggest caveat really is trying to understand the desirability of utilitarianism; although not truly desirable in either context, utilitarianism was more desirable than deontology in short-term mating contexts. This could be part of a methodological limitation and future research could potentially have participants respond to an ipsative scale of preferences to tap the tradeoffs more directly,” he said for PsyPost.
Finally, the author explained that he was happy to have filled a gap in the literature.
Yet he thinks the trolley dilemma is not the only method to assess someone’s morality.
According to him, there are other valuable sources of information that could be successfully used in his research.