Attributions of responsibility play a critical role in many group interactions. This paper explores the role of causal and counterfactual reasoning in blame attributions in groups. We develop a general framework that builds on the notion of pivotality: an agent is pivotal if she could have changed the group outcome by acting differently. In three experiments we test successive refinements of this notion – whether an agent is pivotal in close possible situations and the number of paths to achieve pivotality. In order to discriminate between potential models, we introduced group tasks with asymmetric structures. Some group members were complements (for the two to contribute to the group outcome it was necessary that both succeed) whereas others were substitutes (for the two to contribute to the group outcome it was sufficient that one succeeds). Across all three experiments we found that people’s attributions were sensitive to the number of paths to pivotality. In particular, an agent incurred more blame for a team loss in the presence of a successful complementary peer than in the presence of a successful substitute.
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