Jana Samland and Michael Waldmann

How prescriptive norms influence causal inferences


Recent experimental findings suggest that prescriptive norms influence causal inferences. The cognitive mechanism underlying this finding is still under debate. We compare three competing theories: The culpable control model of blame argues that reasoners tend to exaggerate the causal influence of norm-violating agents, which should lead to relatively higher causal strength estimates for these agents. By contrast, the counterfactual reasoning account of causal selection assumes that norms do not alter the representation of the causal model, but rather later causal selection stages. According to this view, reasoners tend to preferentially consider counterfactual states of abnormal rather than normal factors, which leads to the choice of the abnormal factor in a causal selection task. A third view, the accountability hypothesis, claims that the effects of prescriptive norms are generated by the ambiguity of the causal test question. Asking whether an agent is a cause can be understood as a request to assess her causal contribution but also her moral accountability. According to this theory norm effects on causal selection are mediated by accountability judgments that are not only sensitive to the abnormality of behavior but also to mitigating factors, such as intentionality and knowledge of norms. Five experiments are presented that favor the accountability account over the two alternative theories. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Accession Number: 2016-45483-016. PMID: 27591550 Partial author list: First Author & Affiliation: Samland, Jana; Department of Psychology, University of Gottingen, Gottingen, Germany. Release Date: 20161017. Publication Type: Journal (0100), Peer Reviewed Journal (0110). Format Covered: Electronic. Document Type: Journal Article. Language: English. Major Descriptor: Morality; Pragmatics; Reasoning. Minor Descriptor: Causality. Classification: Cognitive Processes (2340). Population: Human (10). Age Group: Adulthood (18 yrs & older) (300). Methodology: Empirical Study; Quantitative Study. Supplemental Data: Other Internet. Page Count: 13. Issue Publication Date: Nov, 2016. Publication History: First Posted Date: Aug 31, 2016; Accepted Date: Jul 14, 2016; Revised Date: Jul 13, 2016; First Submitted Date: Jun 10, 2015. Copyright Statement: All rights reserved. Elsevier B.V. 2016.