Actor-Observer Asymmetries in Judgments of Intentional Actions


Much recent empirical research has explored the influence of moral evaluations on judgments about the intentionality of foreseeable side-effects of actions. Research on this ‘Side-Effect effect’ (also called the ‘Knobe effect’) has relied almost exclusively on vignette-based surveys, which have serious limitations when used in isolation. We present a novel behavioral methodology that tests the Side-Effect effect in two previously unexamined contexts: (i) judgments of real (rather than hypothetical) actions, and (ii) judgments about one’s own actions. The results suggest that judgments about one’s own actions tend to show a reverse Side-Effect effect: actors judge that (real) positive side-effects of their own actions are intentional whereas negative ones are not. The use of non-hypothetical situations also appears to attenuate the standard Side-Effect effect, which raises interesting challenges for standard theoretical accounts. These results provide preliminary evidence that the Side-Effect effect is driven by the same mechanisms underlying other asymmetries in causal attribution.

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