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Immorality or Abnormality: What's to Blame for Increasing Blame?

52 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2014 Last revised: 29 Apr 2014

Elizabeth A Gilbert

University of Virginia

Barbara A. Spellman

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: October 11, 2013

Abstract

A growing body of research shows that immoral actors are judged to be more causal of and more blameworthy for bad outcomes. Prior research suggests that the immorality-blame link is a product of top-down processing, in which automatic judgments about an actor’s morality influence later cause and blame judgments. We, however, suggest that immorality is typically correlated with abnormality, and what appears to be a relationship between morality and blame is due at least in part to the relationship between normality and cause. Study 1 provides evidence that judgments of morality and normality are typically correlated. Studies 2 and 3 replicate this finding and also show that that normality mediates the relationship between morality, causation, and blame. Study 3 also provides evidence for why abnormal behavior affects blame judgments. Specifically, immoral behavior, because it is abnormal, prompts counterfactual thinking – i.e., imagining ways a bad outcome could have been prevented – and such thinking in turn affects cause and blame judgments. These findings support a bottom-up, probabilistic process of cause and blame assignment. They also conflict with prescriptive theories of blame and have applied implications for legal policy.

Keywords: Causation, Blame, Morality, Counterfactuals, Control

Suggested Citation

Gilbert, Elizabeth A and Spellman, Barbara A., Immorality or Abnormality: What's to Blame for Increasing Blame? (October 11, 2013). Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-31. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2404176 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2404176

Elizabeth A Gilbert (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Barbara A. Spellman

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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