Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

The Effects of the Internet on Moral Decision Making

  Ruairi Blake (2020 cohort)

The internet has, for better or worse, allowed for the quick spreading, archiving, and retrieval of information on a scale not even considered possible for most of human history. Given this massive technological change, and the way it has come to shape our lives, it should be no surprise that there is an entire field of psychology dedicated to measuring the effects of the internet on people.

However, such studies often take a similar approach: they assume content (the pictures, words, and videos we see on screens of all sizes) is the only aspect that has an effect on us. This view has many benefits, such as the ability to monitor the role self-comparison has on self-esteem, but it leaves itself unavoidably open to a fair criticism: doesn’t pre-existing media do the same things? Where’s the change?

Through this PhD, I plan to explore the possibility that simply understanding how the internet works, its structure, shapes how we think about the role of information in our decision-making processes in a way other technologies don’t. In particular, I plan on discovering how this effect may be responsible for inciting a more “global” mindset when making moral decisions.

I think through this lens we might be able to see the causes of moral shifts in our society. Increasingly people are employing ideas of ethical consumerism; a large element in the growing concept of climate justice is empathy and duty to people you’ll never meet.

Do the consequences of your actions on someone half a world away reflect on you? Does that change if you’re able to create direct links between your action and the consequence? We are all able to know what the furthest consequences of a purchasing decision are; Do we have an obligation to learn the full extent of our impact on others we will never meet? These are all questions we answer as individuals, and this project is going to focus on what influences people’s answers.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1).