It said people's moral decisions can be influenced by tracking moment to moment movements of the eyes during deliberation.

Many of the choices we face in daily life have a moral character, from deciding whether to give money to a homeless person asking for change to separating out recyclables from the trash.

"People often assume that their moral opinions are stable preferences that already exist in their hearts and minds," said Michael Spivey from the University of California, Merced.

"But we hypothesized that many of your moral decisions may arise 'on the fly' as a result of how you look at and interact with your environment," he added.

The researchers used remote eye-trackers to monitor participants' gaze while they thought about complex moral questions such as 'Is murder sometimes justifiable?.

The participants were presented with two alternatives to each question, and were asked to consider which of those they considered to be morally right.

For each trial, a target alternative was randomly selected, and once the eye tracker registered that the participants had looked at the target for a certain amount of time, they were asked to make their decision immediately.

The results showed that the participants moral decisions were systematically biased towards the target. "What we find in this study is that the precise timing of our decisions can be a powerful influence on the choices that we end up making. The process of arriving at a moral decision is not only reflected in people's eye gaze but can also be determined by it," said co-author of the study Philip Parnamets from Lund University, Sweden.

This suggests more generally that people's decision processes are reflected in their eye gaze, Parnamets said.


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