Predicting responsibility judgments from dispositional inferences and causal attributions

Abstract

How do people hold others responsible for their actions? In this paper, we test and extend a computational framework originally introduced by Gerstenberg et al. (2018) that assigns responsibility as a function of two factors: a dispositional inference that captures what we learn about a person’s character from their action, and the causal role that the person’s action played in bringing about the outcome. This framework has been shown to accurately capture how people assign responsibility to decision-makers in achievement contexts. Here, we focus on a more complex group setting in which political committee members vote on whether or not a policy should be passed. This setting allowed us to manipulate both dispositional inferences and causal attributions in graded ways, as well as directly test the model’s key components by asking participants to judge how surprising and how important a committee member’s vote was. Participants’ answers to these questions in Experiment 1 accurately predicted the responsibility judgments of another group of participants in Experiment 2. In Experiment 3, we show that the model also predicts moral responsibility judgments and that, in the moral domain, dispositional inferences affect responsibility judgments more strongly than causal attributions.

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