Responsibility Amplifies Empathic Forecasts
58 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2018 Last revised: 27 Jul 2020
Date Written: September 25, 2018
Inspired by theoretical and empirical work on emotion, psychological distance, moral psychology, and people’s tendency to overgeneralize ecologically valid relationships, 3 studies explore whether, why, and for whom responsibility amplifies empathic forecasts (RAEF)—the perception that an intentional agent’s social actions will produce stronger affective responses in others than if those same outcomes were to occur randomly or unintentionally. In Study 1, participants thought that pleasant or aversive videos would elicit stronger reactions when participants themselves (instead of the random determination of a computer) would select the video another would watch. This was explained by responsible agents’ own stronger reactions to the stimuli. Study 2 identified what about agents’ responsibility amplifies empathic forecasts: the combination of clearly causing and intending the other’s outcome. Study 3 demonstrated that RAEF need not extend to all responsible agents equally. Participants considered how to divide (vs. how another participant would divide or how a computer would randomly split) $10 with a recipient. In this context, we found the weight of causal responsibility looms larger in the self’s mind when the self is responsible for the recipient’s fate than when another responsible agent is. Furthermore, the self thought that the recipient’s emotional reaction would be more strongly influenced by the size of the self’s own (compared to another’s or a computer’s) allocation decision. The Discussion focuses on how RAEF relates to other models connecting agency and experience, provides initial evidence that RAEF need not be egocentric, and identifies open questions that remain for future research.
Keywords: social cognition, empathic forecasting, causality, intent, egocentrism
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