Deutsch: Dilemma / Español: Dilema / Português: Dilema / Français: Dilemme / Italiano: Dilemma

In psychology, a dilemma refers to a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially equally undesirable ones. It often involves a conflict between moral imperatives, where to obey one would result in transgressing another.

General Description

Psychological dilemmas are significant because they require individuals to engage in complex decision-making processes, often weighing conflicting values or desires. These situations can lead to significant emotional and cognitive stress as individuals struggle to resolve the conflict and make a choice that aligns with their personal beliefs, values, and social norms.

Application Areas

Dilemmas are studied in various subfields of psychology:

  • Moral Psychology: Examines how people navigate moral dilemmas and what these choices say about their moral reasoning and ethical frameworks.
  • Developmental Psychology: Looks at how understanding and responses to dilemmas change with age and cognitive development.
  • Clinical Psychology: Dilemmas may be discussed in therapy settings where individuals are helped to explore and resolve conflicts that impact their mental health and relationships.

Well-Known Examples

A well-known example of a dilemma in psychology is the Trolley Problem, a thought experiment in moral psychology that involves hypothetical scenarios to investigate people’s judgments about moral dilemmas involving harm, rights, and fairness.

Treatment and Risks

Addressing dilemmas in therapeutic contexts involves helping individuals to articulate their values clearly, consider the consequences of different choices, and develop strategies for decision-making that reduce psychological distress. Failure to resolve dilemmas effectively can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and decision paralysis.

Similar Terms

Similar terms include "conflict" and "conundrum." While all these terms involve difficult decision-making, a dilemma specifically involves a choice between options that are often equally undesirable or mutually exclusive.

Articles with 'Dilemma' in the title

  • Commons dilemma: The Commons dilemma (tragedy of the Commons) is defined as the depletion or destruction of resources that are owned collectively. It refers to the tendency for shared or jointly-owned resources to be squandered and not used in an optimal or . . .
  • Human dilemma: Human dilemma is a term which according to May refers to the paradox that results from the dual nature of humans as objects to which things happen and as subjects who assign meaning to their experiences
  • PDG (Prisoner’s Dilemma Game): PDG (Prisoner’s Dilemma Game) is defined as a simulation of social interaction in which players must make either cooperative or competitive choices in order to win
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma: Prisoner’s Dilemma refers to a game that forces people to choose between cooperation and competition- mixed-motives dilemma in which everyone is better off cooperating, but cooperating with a competitive partner brings personal disaster
  • Prisoner’s Dilemma Game: Prisoner’s Dilemma Game or PDG refers to a simulated social dilemma that requires participants to make choices between acting selfishly and cooperatively when selfishness looks better initially but can damage long-term joint outcomes of t . . .
  • Social dilemma: Social dilemma refers to a situation in which the most beneficial action for an individual will, have harmful effects on everyone if chosen by most people
  • Choice-Dilemmas Questionnaire: Choice-Dilemmas Questionnaire refers to a self-report measure of willingness to make risky decisions that asks respondents to read a series of scenarios involving a course of action that may or may not yield financial, interpersonal, or edu . . .
  • Ethical Dilemmas: Ethical Dilemmas is defined as situations that require ethical judgment calls. Usually, there is more than one right answer and no win-win solution in which people get everything they want


In psychology, a dilemma is a complex decision-making scenario that involves choosing between competing values or desires, often under conditions of uncertainty or conflict. Understanding how individuals navigate dilemmas can provide insight into their moral reasoning, cognitive processes, and emotional resilience.