Tort Reform: Cognitive Perspective Taking Promotes Attributions of 'Oblique' Intent for Side-Effects of Intentional Action
26 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2012
Date Written: June 29, 2012
A person’s actions often yield positive and/or negative side-effects in addition to directly-intended consequences. Legal opinion on negligence and recklessness attributes “oblique” intent to persons who foresee, but (intentionally) ignore, virtually certain negative side-effects of their actions. The law remains silent on any variety of intentionality for positive side-effects. In three experiments, we show that lay-people in the U.S. and India exhibit a similar asymmetry, attributing oblique intent to negative, but not positive, side-effects. Under most conditions, we show that inferring oblique intent requires increasingly skillful social reasoning. Nevertheless, priming belief-reading (as opposed to emotion-reading or cognitive reflection) can help anyone discriminate between oblique and direct intent. Priming works, we argue, because belief-reading and intention-reading both depend on cognitive (as opposed to empathic) perspective-taking. In sum, we naturalize the concept of oblique intent and socialize the debate over what aspect of individual reasoning — predictive/explanatory or evaluative — best explains mental-state attributions.
Keywords: attribution, social cognition, intentionality, morality, mens rea
JEL Classification: C91, D84, K13
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation