The Trolley Effect

All aboard the Sociology train! It’s time to talk about one of my favorite theories: The Trolley Effect. The Trolley Effect is a really fun theory/effect/whatever you want to call it. It can take many forms, many situations, and many hours to discuss it. So get your debating shoes on because talking about this in a Sociology class, could last awhile.

The Story

The Trolley Effect goes like this: You are near a platform and you have a lever you can pull. The trolley tracks split into two paths ahead and on one side (let’s say the left) is one person and on the other side (right) are three people. The trolley is coming and cannot stop and currently is on the right tracks headed for the three people. What do you do? Do you switch it to kill the one person? Or do you kill three people and save one?

A beautiful representation of the trolley effect I created

Most of the people, including me, chose to save the three people. Then my teacher changed it up on us. What if it was a loved one on the other side of the track? Would you hit three strangers to save your loved one? Or would you hit your loved one to save three strangers?


Many people in my class found ways around this problem. Here is a list of some of my favorite loopholes.

  • The trolley should continue on the three person track, someone has to notice the trolley coming.
  • Scream at the top of your lungs at the people closest to you — someone has to hear you.
  • If there’s a loved one on the tracks, call their phone, and tell them to get off them.
  • Why would this exist? No one would play on trolley tracks long like this?
  • Find a way to de-rail or stop the trolley
Real World Application

While this seems implausible, this problem is a really fun theory to mess around with. There is a real world application with this problem and it is self-driving cars. Currently, they are using this to decide what should happen if the car cannot stop and has to stop itself. (This is a really cool simulation and it let’s you decide between two events.)


The Trolley Problem is great for having fun in Sociology class and determining the morality of people. This shouldn’t ever have to happen to anyone nor should this actually be tested. But, if you ever take a Sociology class now you can find fun and new ways to get past this problem or present this problem.