Ralf Mayrhofer and Michael Waldmann

Indicators of causal agency in physical interactions: The role of the prior context


The question how agent and patient roles are assigned to causal participants has largely been neglected in the psychological literature on force dynamics. Inspired by the linguistic theory of Dowty (1991), we propose that agency attributions are based on a prototype concept of human intervention. We predicted that the number of criteria a participant in a causal interaction shares with this prototype determines the strength of agency intuitions. We showed in two experiments using versions of Michotteʼs (1963) launching scenarios that agency intuitions were moderated by manipulations of the context prior to the launching event. Altering features, such as relative movement, sequence of visibility, and self-propelled motion, tended to increase agency attributions to the participant that is normally viewed as patient in the standard scenario. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Sponsor: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany. Grant: WA 621/22-1; SPP 1516. Other Details: ‘‘New frameworks of rationalityʼʼ. Recipients: No recipient indicated