The Chinese and American Students and the Trolley Problem: A Cross-cultural Study

Sharaf Rehman (1), Joanna Dzionek-Kozłowsk (2)
(1) Department of Economics & Sociology, 41 Rewolucji 1905 r, Room A 409, 90-214 Lodz, Poland, Poland,
(2) Department of Economics & Sociology, 41 Rewolucji 1905 r, Room A 409, 90-214 Lodz, Poland, Poland


People are routinely faced with making decisions. Some decisions are made quickly and easily while others may take reflection and research. Scholars in numerous disciplines such as behavioral economics, marketing, philosophy, psychology, and sociology have attempted to identify the variables that impact people’s ethical/moral choices in the decision-making process. Still, the question of whether people use their heads (rationale) or their hearts (emotions) to make decisions remains unanswered. The present exploratory study hopes to contribute to the discussion on the influence of culture on people’s choices. Working with samples from two cultures (China and USA) and using three variants of the Trolley Problem (Foot 1967), the participants’ responses are used to identify the similarities and differences between their choices. The data suggest that moral decisions are linked to culture. The Chinese participants who are raised in a collectivistic culture seem to have a greater concern for others; the American respondents as products of an individualistic culture are less inclined to interfere in the lives of other people. The data also reveal that gender plays a role in altruistic behavior. Women are more likely to engage in helpful behavior than man. Lastly, the paper discusses the inconsistencies in choices by the respondents.

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Sharaf Rehman (Primary Contact)
Joanna Dzionek-Kozłowsk
Author Biographies

Sharaf Rehman, Department of Economics & Sociology, 41 Rewolucji 1905 r, Room A 409, 90-214 Lodz, Poland

Sharaf Rehman is professor of communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and guest professor at the University of Lodz, Poland. For the past forty years, he has taught communication (film and theater) in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. He served as the founding department chair for communication at the University of Texas-Brownsville and as associate dean for the College of International Communication at Lynn University, Florida. His research has appeared in numerous international journals in the areas of mass communication, intercultural studies, marketing, sociology, economics, and ethics.

Joanna Dzionek-Kozłowsk, Department of Economics & Sociology, 41 Rewolucji 1905 r, Room A 409, 90-214 Lodz, Poland

Joanna Dzionek-Kozłowska is professor of economics at the University of Lodz, Poland. She holds a PhD in economics. Her research interests include history of economic thought, philosophy of economics, ethics, and the impact of economics education on student behavior. For the last several years, she has been researching the influence of economics education on collaboration and teamwork. Her most recent book, Model of Homo Oeconomicus: Its Origin, Evolution, and Influence on Economic Life appeared in 2018. She is editor-in-chief of Annales: Ethics in Economic Life, a quarterly publication from the University of Lodz.

Rehman, S., & Dzionek-Kozłowsk, J. (2020). The Chinese and American Students and the Trolley Problem: A Cross-cultural Study. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 20(2), 31–41.

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