Rational order effects in responsibility attributions


Two experiments establish a rational order effect in responsibility attributions. Experiment 1 shows that in a team challenge in which players contribute sequentially, the last player’s blame or credit for a performance is reduced if the team’s result is already determined prior to his acting. However, credit and blame attributions still vary with quality of performance in these cases. This finding is at odds with Spellman (1997) who proposed that a person’s perceived contribution varies with the degree to which it changes the probability of the eventual outcome. Experiment 2 illustrates that the rational order effect does not overgeneralize to situations in which the experienced order of events does not map onto the objective order of events. The quality of the last person’s performance is only discredited if she knew that the result was already determined.

Gerstenberg, T., Lagnado, D. A., Speekenbrink, M., & Cheung, C. (2011). Rational order effects in responsibility attributions. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. (pp. 1715-1720). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

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