My research focuses on questions at the intersection of psychology and moral philosophy. In particular, I am interested in the psychology of effective altruism. At its core, the study of effective altruism is the study of decision-making in an altruistic context. When people decide that they want to help others, they are confronted with a vast variety of ways in which to do so, and each of these different ways varies in how much good it can do — that is, its effectiveness. These differences in effectiveness can be startling. In the charitable giving sector, for example, some interventions have been shown to be up to one thousand times more effective than others. When we add this consideration to the consideration that our resources for helping — both time and money — are limited, we can conclude that the decision about how to spend our resources wisely is hugely important when we want to help others. Despite this, however, many people do not consider effectiveness when making altruistically-motivated decisions. The question I am interested in is — why?
One possibility is that people are restricted by their moral preferences or values. What is considered morally important differs from person to person, and some people may not consider it important to do the ‘most’ good possible. Others may differ in their view as to who ‘counts’ morally, and may believe that distant humans count less than closer ones, or that non-human animals should be exempt from moral considerations.
Another possibility is that the real-life decisions people make when they decide to help others do not reflect the decisions that they would endorse under careful, unbiased reflection. Behavioral economics has shown that cognitive biases can impair our reasoning and decision-making in a wide range of arenas (such as monetary gambling tasks). Similarly, the same biases can impair decision-making in a moral context. I am interested in exploring this extension of the heuristics and biases programme into the realm of moral philosophy, and in answering questions such as: Which biases have the most impact on altruistic decision-making? And what are the underlying cognitive mechanisms for these biases?
In my research I aim to investigate both of these possibilities empirically. I work under the supervision of Dr Nadira Faber, Professor Julian Savulescu, and Professor Miles Hewstone.