Examining the unfolding of moral decisions across time using the reach-to-touch paradigm

Samantha Parker*, Matthew Finkbeiner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


Recent theories of decision making are characterised by a growing emphasis on understanding the cognitive mechanisms that produce decisions. This has seen a growth in methods that allow for the continuous collection of data during reasoning. Current applications of these methods to complex decision making have been limited in their ability to examine the dynamics of responding across time. In the current study we address this issue by examining the online dynamics of moral decisions. Participants were required to respond to moral dilemmas that differed according to harm or intention by reaching out and touching one of two response panels. Utilitarian and deontological responses to personal moral dilemmas were found to differ across time. Utilitarian decisions did not emerge more slowly overall, but rather emerged across a wider (less consistent) time period. Importantly, this result did not generalise to a set of standardized moral scenarios. Taken together these findings highlight how dilemma-specific variables can significantly influence moral reasoning and emphasize the importance of using well controlled stimuli together with a measure capable of examining decisions as they unfold over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-253
Number of pages36
JournalThinking and Reasoning
Issue number2
Early online date15 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • decision making
  • dual-process models
  • methodology
  • moral judgement
  • reaching paradigm


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