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Did you know that your beliefs do much more than just shape your decision making? In fact, your beliefs regularly: change your body’s chemistry, help you adapt to stress, and even alter your perception and memory of the world around you. And central to your beliefs is your personal ethics – the intuitions you hold about what is fair and unfair.
As a psychologist, I’ve dedicated my life to learning how beliefs shape our experiences, and how we can build better beliefs that help us live more fulfilled and healthy lives. From how beliefs change your body as placebo (and nocebo) effects, to how and why curiosity drives attention, and even how story structure shapes memory. I’ve built a broad research understanding of how our beliefs let us adapt to our environments.
Central to this pursuit has been the study of ethics; or moral philosophy. Your personal ethical beliefs make up a crucial and powerful component of your identity. Throughout history our ethics have typically come from our culture, however with the rapid advancement of technology, young people are faced with new and increasingly complex moral problems. Should companies be allowed to store your data? Is automation of jobs fair or unfair? Can the environment have moral rights?
There are many growing ethical questions that are front-and-center in our lives, and being able to consider them critically is important to both mental health and decision making. Fortunately, there is a rich and successful history of gamifying complex moral problems so as to experiment with possible ethical beliefs, such as the famous ‘trolley problem’ … or nowadays, games like Ethos 2514 by Arludo!
In Ethos 2514, students are tasked with commanding an interstellar settlement, where they will have to make increasingly challenging moral decisions for the good of their colony. These decisions provide an open forum for discussing the relative merits and shortcomings of various ethical positions such as utilitarianism, ethics in science, and environmentalism to name a few. Depending on the desired focus of the class, one or two of these concepts may be covered in more detail and tied to underlying psychological concepts so that students get a better picture of why it’s useful for them to actively build their own ethical beliefs.
It’s more important than ever that the next generations are aware of how their beliefs shape the world around them. Whether in science, business, or just everyday life, examining your ethical intuitions will not only make you a better decision maker, but a healthier member of your community.
Written by Kip Elder
Kip is a psychology researcher at UNSW and is currently undergoing training as a clinical psychologist at UWS.