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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Allocating moral responsibility to multiple agents

Gantman, A. P., Sternisko, A., et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 91, November 2020, 


Moral and immoral actions often involve multiple individuals who play different roles in bringing about the outcome. For example, one agent may deliberate and decide what to do while another may plan and implement that decision. We suggest that the Mindset Theory of Action Phases provides a useful lens through which to understand these cases and the implications that these different roles, which correspond to different mindsets, have for judgments of moral responsibility. In Experiment 1, participants learned about a disastrous oil spill in which one company made decisions about a faulty oil rig, and another installed that rig. Participants judged the company who made decisions as more responsible than the company who implemented them. In Experiment 2 and a direct replication, we tested whether people judge implementers to be morally responsible at all. We examined a known asymmetry in blame and praise. Moral agents received blame for actions that resulted in a bad outcome but not praise for the same action that resulted in a good outcome. We found this asymmetry for deciders but not implementers, an indication that implementers were judged through a moral lens to a lesser extent than deciders. Implications for allocating moral responsibility across multiple agents are discussed.


• Acts can be divided into parts and thereby roles (e.g., decider, implementer).

• Deliberating agent earns more blame than implementing one for a bad outcome.

• Asymmetry in blame vs. praise for the decider but not the implementer

• Asymmetry in blame vs. praise suggests only the decider is judged as moral agent

• Effect is attenuated if decider's job is primarily to implement.