[May 13, 2018] The first time a soldier goes to war, that individual wonders how they will react when confronted with a situation that requires them to kill another human being. Will the soldier do as they are trained, freeze-up, run away, or do something else? This unknown is the essence of the Trolley Problem.
When confronted by a life and death situation, what will people do? Polls and surveys have been put together to ask people what they “think” they would do. But no research has actually put people in a traumatic situation to see what they “actually” do. Except now they have.
The trolley problem (or dilemma) can help us understand human nature better. It can assist the military to find those who would be better soldiers and emergency response organizations to sort out those who can function well in a crisis.
In short, the trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics. Here it is in a nutshell:
A runaway trolley is heading down the tracks toward five workers who will all be killed if the trolley proceeds on its present course. Adam is standing next to a large switch that can divert the trolley onto a different track. The only way to save the lives of the five workers is to divert the trolley onto another track that only has one worker on it. If Adam diverts the trolley onto the other track, this one worker will die, but the other five workers will be saved.
In a YouTube Red series called Mind Field (see link here, 34:37 Minutes), an experiment takes place under controlled conditions to compare what people say to what people actually do when confronted with a difficult choice.
What we know is that the vast majority of people say they will save the five workers by diverting the trolley to a track with one person on it; sacrificing the one for the many. The experiment tells a different story. When confronted with a “real” situation, however, the majority will not act at all; causing the death of five workers.
How we train soldiers to fight and others to act correctly in emergencies can be improved with this knowledge. Now, it’s up to the experts to figure out how.