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Would you sacrifice one person to save five? - Eleanor Nelsen

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Imagine you’re watching a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks, straight towards five workers. You happen to be standing next to a switch that will divert the trolley onto a second track. Here’s the problem: that track has a worker on it, too — but just one. What do you do? Do you sacrifice one person to save five? Eleanor Nelsen details the ethical dilemma that is the trolley problem.


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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Eoin Duffy
  • Animator Tyler Morgan, Super Dasil, Mahesh, Hovsepyan Karen, Cooper Custom
  • Sound Designer David Kamp
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
For Phillippa Foot’s original version of the trolley problem, in which the main character is driving the runaway trolley rather than standing beside the tracks, see this 1967 paper.

This interactive lets you decide how you would respond to the classic problem and three variants, and compares your answers to those of participants in a Harvard study.

For a discussion of whether or not the trolley problem is still relevant, take a look at this article: Is One of the Most Popular Psychology Experiments Worthless?

For a discussion of how the trolley problem has been used to racial bias, political affiliation, and how they intersect, this article is a place to start.

More on the history of the trolley problem, and its application to driverless cars can be found in this article: Would You Pull the Trolley Switch? Does it Matter?
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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Eoin Duffy
  • Animator Tyler Morgan, Super Dasil, Mahesh, Hovsepyan Karen, Cooper Custom
  • Sound Designer David Kamp
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • See more