Highlighting the Causal Meaning of Causal Test Questions in Contexts of Norm Violations


Experiments have shown that prescriptive norms often influence causal inferences. The reason for this effect is still not clear. One problem of the studies is that the term ‘cause’ in the test questions is ambiguous and can refer to both the causal mechanism and the agent’s accountability. Possibly subjects interpreted the causal test question as a request to assess accountability rather than causality. Scenarios that put more stress on the causal mechanism should therefore yield no norm effect. Consequently, Experiment 1 demonstrates that norms no longer influence causal judgments when the causal information is presented in a trial-by-trial learning task. Furthermore, Experiment 2 shows that norm effects are only obtained when the test question asks about a (potentially accountable) person but not when asked about a component of the causal mechanism. Both findings demonstrate that norms cease to influence causal judgments when the task settings highlight causal relations.

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