Moral asymmetries in judgments of agency withstand ludicrous causal deviance

Paulo Sousa, Colin Holbrook, Lauren Swiney

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6 Citations (Scopus)
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Americans have been shown to attribute greater intentionality to immoral than to amoral actions in cases of causal deviance, that is, cases where a goal is satisfied in a way that deviates from initially planned means (e.g., a gunman wants to hit a target and his hand slips, but the bullet ricochets off a rock into the target). However, past research has yet to assess whether this asymmetry persists in cases of extreme causal deviance. Here, we manipulated the level of mild to extreme causal deviance of an immoral versus amoral act. The asymmetry in attributions of intentionality was observed at all but the
most extreme level of causal deviance, and, as we hypothesized, was mediated by attributions of Blame/credit and judgments of action performance. These findings are discussed as they support a multiple-concepts interpretation of the asymmetry, wherein blame renders a naïve concept of intentional action (the outcome matches the intention) more salient than a composite concept (the outcome matches the intention and was brought about by planned means), and in terms of their implications for cross-cultural research on judgments of agency.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1380
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • blame
  • credit
  • action
  • intentional action
  • causal deviance
  • moral judgments


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