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Saturday, January 23, 2021

Norms Affect Prospective Causal Judgments

Henne, P., & others
(2019, December 30). 


People more frequently select norm-violating factors, relative to norm-conforming ones, as the cause of some outcome. Until recently, this abnormal-selection effect has been studied using retrospective vignette-based paradigms. We use a novel set of video stimuli to investigate this effect for prospective causal judgments—i.e., judgments about the cause of some future outcome. Four experiments show that people more frequently select norm-violating factors, relative to norm-conforming ones, as the cause of some future outcome. We show that the abnormal-selection effects are not primarily explained by the perception of agency (Experiment 4). We discuss these results in relation to recent efforts to model causal judgment.

From the Discussion

The results of these experiments have some important consequences for the study of causal cognition. While accounting for some of the limitations of past work on abnormal selection, we present strong evidence in support of modal explanations for abnormal-selection effects. Participants in our studies select norm-violating factors as causes for stimuli that reduce the presence of agential cues (Experiments 1-3), and increasing agency cues does not change this tendency (Experiment 4). Social explanations might account for abnormal-selection behavior in some contexts, but, in general, abnormal-selection behavior likely does not depend on perceived intentions of agents, assessments of blame, or other social concerns. Rather, abnormal-selection effects seem to reflect a more general causal reasoning process, not just processes related to social or moral cognition, that involves modal cognition.The modal explanations for abnormal selection effects predict the results that we present here; in non-social situations, abnormal-selection effects should occur, and they should occur for prospective causal judgments. Even if the social explanation can account for the results of Experiments 1-3, it does not predict the results of Experiment 4. In Experiment 4, we increased agency cues, and we saw an increase in perceived intentionality attributed to the objects in our stimuli. But we did not see a change in abnormal-selection behavior, as social explanations predict. While these results are not evidence that the social explanation is completely mistaken about causal-selection behavior, we have strong evidence that modal explanations account for these effects—even when agency cues are increased.


Editor's note: This research is very important for psychologists, clinicians, and psychotherapists trying to understand and conceptualize their patient's behaviors and symptoms.  Studies show clinicians have poor inter-rater reliability to explain accurate the causes of behaviors and symptoms.  In this study, norm violations are more likely seen as causes, a bias for which we all need to understand.