Borislow, Samuel




Associate Professor of Psychology

Project Summary

This summer, I had the opportunity to work with Geoffrey Goodwin in conducting research within the field of moral psychology. Our goal was to study the apparent discrepancy between moral judgments concerning human euthanasia and animal euthanasia through conducting surveys. In doing so, we wanted to study the various factors that influence these judgments, and whether manipulation of these factors would affect judgments as hypothesized.

My role in the research was to create the surveys, distribute them online, and analyze the resulting data.  The first survey measured the relationship between dispositional-level factors (dispositional empathy, perceived human-dog similarity, and perceived human-dog status) and ratings of the morality of euthanizing a dog in two cases (one where the euthanasia was in the dog’s best interests, and one where it was not). In the second survey, the dog was humanized (in the experimental groups) to increase the prevalence of certain situational-level factors (empathy felt toward the dog and perceived “humanness” of the dog). I measured the relationship between these factors and ratings of the morality of euthanizing the dog in the aforementioned cases. I found that humanization of a dog causes morality ratings of its euthanasia to align more with those expected for humans. Furthermore, I found that greater empathy is related to lower morality ratings for euthanasia not in the dog’s interests and greater morality ratings for euthanasia that is in the dog’s interests. Also, it seems the more “human” a dog appears to be, the less moral euthanasia appears for the dog, even when the dog is suffering from a painful illness. Finally, we found greater speciesism to lead subjects to generally prefer euthanasia more, independent of the case type. In the future, we’d like to determine which factor is the most influential predictor of moral judgments concerning animal euthanasia, and the reason for the observed effects.

Throughout the research, I was constantly picking up new skills. For one, I learned how to use Qualtrics, which is a software used to create surveys. Learning the different features of the software has allowed me to become more confident creating psychological surveys on my own. I also learned how to use MTurk, which is a survey distribution forum also used often in psychological research. Lastly, I found that I consistently learned useful pieces of information about effectively conducting good research, especially in creating the vignettes used in the surveys.

Overall, having the opportunity to conduct this research has allowed me to apply much of the information I had learned from my classes. I had taken multiple statistics courses before the research, and performing the statistical analyses I learned in class on my own data was very satisfying. In addition, the literature reviews I had to conduct allowed me to become acquainted with some important research conducted in the past. More than anything, the opportunity showed me research might be in my future.