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Friday, July 30, 2021

The Impact of Ignorance Beyond Causation: An Experimental Meta-Analysis

L. Kirfel & J. P. Phillips


Norm violations have been demonstrated to impact a wide range of seemingly non-normative judgments. Among other things, when agents’ actions violate prescriptive norms they tend to be seen as having done those actions more freely, as having acted more intentionally, as being more of a cause of subsequent outcomes, and even as being less happy. The explanation of this effect continue to be debated, with some researchers appealing to features of actions that violate norms, and other researcher emphasizing the importance of agents’ mental states when acting. Here, we report the results of a large-scale experiment that replicates and extends twelve of the studies that originally demonstrated the pervasive impact of norm violations. In each case, we build on the pre-existing experimental paradigms to additionally manipulate whether the agents knew that they were violating a norm while holding fixed the action done. We find evidence for a pervasive impact of ignorance: the impact of norm violations on nonnormative judgments depends largely on the agent knowing that they were violating a norm when acting.

From the Discussion

Norm violations have been previously demonstrated to influence a wide range of intuitive judgments, including judgments of causation, freedom, happiness, doing vs. allowing, mental state ascriptions, and modal claims. A continuing debate centers on why normality has such a pervasive impact, and whether one should attempt to offer a unified explanation of these various effects (Hindriks, 2014).

At the broadest level, the current results demonstrate that the pervasive impact of normality likely warrants a unified explanation at some level. Across a wide range of intuitive judgments and highly different manipulations of an agents’ knowledge, we found that the impact of normality on nonnormative judgments was diminished when the agent did not know that they were violating a norm. That is, we found evidence for a correspondingly pervasive impact of ignorance.