Good Decisions, Good Causes: Optimality as a Constraint on Attribution of Causal Responsibility


How do we assign causal responsibility for others’ decisions? The present experiments examine the possibility that an optimality constraint is used in these attributions, with agents considered less responsible for outcomes when the decisions that led to those outcomes were suboptimal. Our first two experiments investigate scenarios in which agents are choosing among multiple options, varying the efficacy of the forsaken alternatives to examine the role of optimality in attributing responsibility. Experiment 3 tests whether optimality considerations also play a role in attribution of causality more generally. Taken together, these studies indicate that optimality constraints are used in lay decision theory and in causal judgment.

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