Tort Reform: Cognitive Perspective Taking Promotes Attributions of 'Oblique' Intent for Side-Effects of Intentional Action

26 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2012

See all articles by John Voiklis

John Voiklis

Stevens Institute of Technology - School of Business

Jeffrey V. Nickerson

Stevens Institute of Technology - School of Business

Date Written: June 29, 2012

Abstract

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

Voiklis, John K. and Nickerson, Jeffrey V., Tort Reform: Cognitive Perspective Taking Promotes Attributions of 'Oblique' Intent for Side-Effects of Intentional Action (June 29, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2144205 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2144205

John K. Voiklis (Contact Author)

Stevens Institute of Technology - School of Business ( email )

Hoboken, NJ 07030
United States

Jeffrey V. Nickerson

Stevens Institute of Technology - School of Business ( email )

Hoboken, NJ 07030
United States

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