Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Monday, December 27, 2021

An interaction effect of norm violations on causal judgment

Gill, M., Kominsky, J. F., 
Icard, T., & Knobe, J. (2021, October 19).


Existing research has shown that norm violations influence causal judgments, and a number of different models have been developed to explain these effects. One such model, the necessity/sufficiency model, predicts an interaction pattern in people's judgments. Specifically, it predicts that when people are judging the degree to which a particular factor is a cause, there should be an interaction between (a) the degree to which that factor violates a norm and (b) the degree to which another factor in the situation violates norms. A study of moral norms (N = 1000) and norms of proper functioning (N = 3000) revealed robust evidence for the predicted interaction effect. The implications of these patterns for existing theories of causal judgments is discussed.

General discussion

Two experiments revealed a novel interaction effect of norm violations on causal judgment. First, the experiments replicated two basic phenomena: a focal event is rated as more causal when it is bad (“inflation”) and a focal event is rated less causal when the alternative event is bad (“supersession”). Critically, the experiments showed that (1) the difference in causal ratings of the focal event when it is good vs. bad increases when the alternative event is bad (“inflation increase”) and (2) the difference in causal ratings of the focal event when the alternative event is bad vs.good decreases when the focal event is bad (“supersession decrease”).  

Experiment 1 yielded this novel interaction effect in the context of moral norm violations (e.g., stealing a book from the library). Experiment 2 showed that the effect generalized to violations of norms of proper functioning (e.g., a part of a machine working incorrectly).

This interaction pattern is predicted by the necessity/sufficiency model (Icard et al.,2017). The success of this prediction is especially striking, in that the necessity/sufficiency model was not created with this interaction in mind. Rather, the model was originally created to explain inflation and supersession, and it was only noticed later that this model predicts an interaction in cases of this type.