The Greater Good

The Greater Good

2017, Psychology  -   21 Comments
Ratings: 7.67/10 from 114 users.

Would you sacrifice one person to save the lives of five? For many, the answer to this conundrum would be obvious as most would chose to prevent the highest number of casualties. But would your natural instinct remain unchanged if this theory played out in real world circumstances? That's the question that lies at the center of The Greater Good, the premiere episode from season 2 of the YouTube Red original series Mind Field.

This scenario is based upon the Trolley Problem, a classic theoretical query employed by researchers over many decades. A trolley car barrels towards two split train tracks. Tied to one track are five potential victims while only one person lies tied to the second track. If you controlled the lever, would you chose to continue on the straightforward path and kill five people, or switch tracks to imperil only one? Would fear, guilt and apprehension cause you to freeze? This setup has long been used to evaluate our fundamental moral and ethical instincts.

To place this theoretical dilemma into the realm of real life, the filmmakers concoct an elaborate production featuring a real freight train, hired actors playing distracted railroad workers, and carefully chosen subjects who remain oblivious to the experiment before them.

Another fascinating strand of the documentary's narrative involves a wider angle view of scientific tests such as these, and their ultimate responsibility to their subjects. The endeavor itself is yet another example of determining the greater good. By indulging in these experiments, are they inflicting irreparable psychological trauma? Is the information they collect worth the risks posed to unwitting participants?

In their quest to discern the difference between "instinct" and "philosophical reflection", the filmmakers consult an expert in the field of psychology, as well as an institutional review board at Pepperdine University. They receive valuable feedback on how they can launch a successful experiment while limiting potential harm to their subjects.

The Greater Good is riveting, revealing and surprisingly suspenseful.

Directed by: Michael Stevens

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5 months ago

Don't be fooled by the numbers — it's still murder.

11 months ago

Interesting experiment. to actually test the trolley problem is fascinating. Results indicate that actual behaviour does not replicate perceived behaviour. Although the participant numbers were small, a clear pattern emerged.
Although impossible to perform in real life, the modification of having the participants physically push the subject of an overpass would have an even greater effect.
Well done to you for conducting this valuable research.

David Sanders
1 year ago

Do nothing. Not my problem.
If by doing nothing I get into trouble and loose my job then it's different.
Either wise, who cares.

Cris Sale
2 years ago

If it were me, I would run outside the road shouting Fire! Fire! Fire! Fire!........ and f i r e

3 years ago

I would have derailed the train, as it is not passenger and how it will make noise all will jump to the sides as it was not very fast it is most likely that the machinists would not be seriously injured, right? Who had thought about that and I immediately came up with the first participant, how do you derail the train? with the swich from 1 to 2 several times!

Alexis Lynks
4 years ago

Cory brought me to tears. This was an amazing and life changing experiment.

4 years ago

When you ACT to cause the train to change course, you committed MURDER. And IS it the "greater good" to kill the one person instead of 5 others? For all we know, the one guy could be finishing up a cure for all diseases. Or similar thing that would make the 5 wiped out look like a grain of dust in comparison. And their combined body parts or blood type goop, were just what the one person on the other track needed to complete the cure.

@Donnie and @WhatIDo make fine points. Definitely worth reading.

Being unfamiliar with how such Trolley equipment responds I would have likely tried to cause the trolley to wiggle wobble and crash. Not having a chance to think about it, that could wipe them ALL out any way, being a worse choice than the 2 primary choices ...or may be unsuccessful at crashing.

If I were on the trolley itself I would try to rip out a seat and toss it under the trolley hoping that would slow it down for the people to get out of the way; which could end up causing a derailment and wiping out a big crowd down the street.

However, after reading the comments, giving me more to think about, that a surprise situation that I wasn't expecting and never thought about would not allow, I wouldn't do anything.

The shoving the fat guy onto the tracks seems really bad, unless he molested your kid or voted for Hillary (this of course was only to cause some gaskets to blow, for those that are in dire need of a sense of humor) Recall that some Hillary voters suggested worse for Trump's youngest pre teen.

4 years ago

Change the parameters of the experiment. Have the one person be someone they know vs 5 unknowns. When you are looking through the perception of a video feed it is simply to disconnect as though it is not real and choose the greater good, but given the choice between a loved one and 5 unknowns or even 100 unknowns... then the choice becomes a game changer....

4 years ago

First this is only an experiment to see how any one of us would respond to an ethical dilemma without a positive outcome, my position is the loss of one life is to many. The process used by the makers of the film used a process to minimize harm to the subject of the experiment and presented a realistic scenario of having to make a split decision. At the moment the person responsbile for monitoring the tracks said he had to leave would have been the time the subject could have said, "I'm leaving with you because I don't belong in this room monitoring the trains." In real life situtions such as the workplace or when observing an action in the community that may pose harm, we may be called to respond such as call for help, file a report or take action against an injustice. I plan to use this film as part of an ethics class. I hope I never have to make a decision like this one, however in the field of human services, public safety, health care and corportate America we are constantly faced with ethical/moral dilmess which are not illegal but force us to respond or not.

5 years ago

First and second scenario
I would hit the two people on the road and i would let the train run over the five people on the track for the same reason. If they are so retarded to walk in the middle of the road or playing on the tracks or whatever, then you have forfeited your right to life (Enjoy your Darwin award). And if they walk on the tracks or road again then how many countless number of times would you kill a person to save five, a hundred times?

Now in this experiment they were not just unknown people, they were construction workers who was assumed to have the right to be there. However you can still make the case that five people will have a higher chance of noticing the train in time than just one and so on. The problem is that you cannot truly predict the outcome of every action.
You gonna push the fat guy onto the train to slow it down enough to save some people, in reality the train would not slow down one bit and you just killed a person for nothing.

i have seen pictures where tanker truck in Congo had tipped over and started leaking fuel. So all the villagers began running over in an attempt to siphon valuable gas. Then the truck exploded and 220 people died. Whats the moral of the story? Dumb people gonna die! i feel like every day people risk their lives in traffic trying to win a few seconds. There is a documentary on this site called "one killer punch" there you have another three deaths for the dumbest of reasons. If you can save lives without taking them then do so, but do not kill just to potentially save lives! If a bunch of people decided to take their lives in a suicide pact by jumping on the train tracks a la suicide club i do not want some retard pushing me or my dad or your brother on the tracks thinking he is some hero!

Morris Mini
5 years ago

without knowing the path of the track not traveled, switching to apparently save 5 people could cost many more lives.
It would also hold the unauthorized switcher accountable.
Action on impulse with the information provided could send the train headfirst into an oncoming passenger train, a train carrying highly toxic chemicals, or myriad unseen disasters.

Ex-muslim Atheist/Minneapolis
5 years ago

I will not hesitate to save 5 people

Dexter Morgan
5 years ago

the correct choice is you should do nothing and just watch, rather than disturbing nature. just as we watch lions eat zebras and do not save the zebra's life, there does not appear to be any reason to behave differently in a case like this. let natural selection do its work.

5 years ago

This is definitely interesting.

The obvious choice is kill one to save 5.

But it's pretty easy to rationalize your way into inactivity and indecision in the moment.

If I switch it, the death of that one is a direct result of my action, I personally killed that man... I ended the life of a man that wouldve otherwise survived and gone home to his family. it'd be hard under duress to do that, and before you have time to rationalize that inaction is still pretty much you killing those 5 people it's over, and youre left entirely devastated, or awkwardly taking minor solace that the same result would've happened were you not there at all.

If you believe in fate or God you may also be inactive, and expect whatever happens to be 'God's Will' or a particularly bad twist of fate when faced with no easy options.

Finally, one may convince themselves that there's some sort of failsafe that they're unaware of... I mean they got a crash course of all of a few minutes from this one person, clearly you don't know the system in and out.

There are lots of ways in the moment of duress to convince yourself to do nothing, or drive yourself into panic long enough that you miss the moment to do something and regret it.

I believe if I was in this situation in reality, I would take the one life, but I would forever blame myself for that one death, and never forgive myself even if it was the rationally and morally best decision I could make at the time... I would likely make efforts to learn about the man who's life I took away, and it would be the key factor of the rest of my life going forward. I would just be a ball of permanent unfixable depression until I died.

If I were part of this test (which I would not be, and between my reality answer, and the remainder of this test answer you will know why.) I believe I would not be as accepting of the aftermath as those in the study. I would still be upset no matter which outcome I picked, and would be furious that they put me through this

Although they might not know my exact reactions, heck even I can't be sure of my exact reactions, I feel I would be pretty easily screened out by their psychological tests.

5 years ago


That is sexist

joe nobull
5 years ago

the problem here is the train is going slow if it can take that corner (obviously)so the people are highly likely to notice in time and get out of the way(logically)...but if the train is going fast then 6 will die as it crashes on the corner(if switched) or only 5 will die if left to continue...ya tuff choices given the info released to the players

5 years ago


There is more to it than just that. In another scenario it goes like this: A trolley is headed towards 5 people, you are on a platform and notice an obese man standing there as well. Pushing him off will slow down the train and prevent 5 people from dying. Would you push the man off the platform? Surprisingly most people say no to this scenario, even though logistically it's the same.

Roger Andout
5 years ago

That took courage. I was most impressed by Cory's reaction. Emotion is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. I notice in the review that it wasn't revealed that the two who threw the switch were told that they acted in the greater good.

5 years ago

Five unknown people or one unknown person? Isn't that a no brainer, unless you're a serial killer? And one known person to five unknown? That's dependant on your relationship with that one person whether on how I'd choose.