The good, the bad, and the timely: How temporal order and moral judgment influence causal selection

Frontiers in Psychology 5:1-10 (2014)
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Abstract
Causal selection is the cognitive process through which one or more elements in a complex causal structure are singled out as actual causes of a certain effect. In this paper, we report on an experiment in which we investigated the role of moral and temporal factors in causal selection. Our results are as follows. First, when presented with a temporal chain in which two human agents perform the same action one after the other, subjects tend to judge the later agent to be the actual cause. Second, the impact of temporal location on causal selection is almost canceled out if the later agent did not violate a norm while the former did. We argue that this is due to the impact that judgments of norm violation have on causal selection—even if the violated norm has nothing to do with the obtaining effect. Third, moral judgments about the effect influence causal selection even in the case in which agents could not have foreseen the effect and did not intend to bring it about. We discuss our findings in connection to recent theories of the role of moral judgment in causal reasoning, on the one hand, and to probabilistic models of temporal location, on the other.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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2015-04-27

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