Derek Powell and Zachary Horne
Originally created on December 23, 2018
People’s expectations play an important role in their reactions to events. There is often disappointment when events fail to meet expectations and a special thrill to having one’s expectations exceeded. We propose that expectations influence evaluations through information-theoretic principles: less expected events do more to inform us about the state of the world than do more expected events. An implication of this proposal is that people may have inappropriately muted responses to morally significant but expected events. In two preregistered experiments, we found that people’s judgments of morally-significant events were affected by the likelihood of that event. People were more upset about events that were unexpected (e.g., a robbery at a clothing store) than events that were more expected (e.g., a robbery at a convenience store). We argue that this bias has pernicious moral consequences, including leading to reduced concern for victims in most need of help.
The preprint is here.