Counterfactuals, Control, and Causation: Why Knowledgeable People Get Blamed More

48 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2014

See all articles by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert

University of Virginia

Elizabeth R. Tenney

University of Virginia - Psychology

Christopher Holland

University of Virginia - McIntire School of Commerce

Barbara A. Spellman

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: July 7, 2014

Abstract

Legal and prescriptive theories of blame generally propose that judgments about an actor’s mental state (e.g., her knowledge or intent) should remain separate from judgments about whether the actor caused an outcome. Three experiments, however, show that, even in the absence of intent or immorality, actors who have knowledge relevant to a potential outcome will be rated as more causal of that outcome than their ignorant counterparts, even when their actions were identical. Additional analysis revealed that this effect was mediated by counterfactual thinking — that is, by imagining ways the outcome could have been prevented. Specifically, when actors had knowledge, participants generated more counterfactuals about ways the outcome could have been different that the actor could control, which in turn increased causal assignment to the actor. These results are consistent with the Crediting Causality Model (Spellman et al., 2005), but conflict with some legal and moral theories of blame.

Keywords: Blame, cause, attribution, counterfactuals, control, potency, mental state

Suggested Citation

Gilbert, Elizabeth and Tenney, Elizabeth R. and Holland, Christopher and Spellman, Barbara A., Counterfactuals, Control, and Causation: Why Knowledgeable People Get Blamed More (July 7, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2463520 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2463520

Elizabeth Gilbert (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Elizabeth R. Tenney

University of Virginia - Psychology ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Christopher Holland

University of Virginia - McIntire School of Commerce ( email )

P.O. Box 400173
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4173
United States

Barbara A. Spellman

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Downloads
202
Abstract Views
1,942
Rank
266,346
PlumX Metrics