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Adam Limehouse

Just a thought, is it possible that some of these effects could be represented as greater or lesser degrees of magical thinking in the subjects being tested? Magical thinking being described (vaguely) as the propensity to ascribe intention and/or consciousness inappropriately.

Another issue, do you have data to share re: demographics? What do you suppose could be some possible differences to be found if you took this survey into the African Bush or (barring malaria and such) into Carteret County, NC?

Adam Bear

Hi Adam,

Thanks for the feedback! If I understand you correctly, I agree that it's possible that subjects are making inappropriate intentionality judgments, for example, because of task demands. The question remains, though, whether this can explain the *asymmetry* we found between neutral and virtuous/reprehensible judgments. That's not to say it can't, but this would need to be explained.

Regarding demographics, our subject pool comprised mostly users of Mechanical Turk, who are all from the US (perhaps some from NC) and who tend to have more liberal political views. The rest of our subjects came from Brown University, which, as you probably know, isn't a very diverse population! It's an interesting question how people's intentionality judgments vary across cultures. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with any studies that have looked at that in particular, but I'm sure they exist!

Chandra Sripada

Hi Adam,

Cool results! I think you are right that moral factors such blame reactions have a role here. But I also think at least some of this effect is explained by covert mental state attributions. Many people tend to focus on *desire* as the key mental state for intentionality judgments. My Deep Self Concordance Model says that in addition to ‘surface attitudes’ such as desires, intentionality judgments are also sensitive to people’s *deeper evaluative attitudes*, i.e., their cares, values, and commitments. In particular, the model says people are more likely to judge an agent intentionally brought about an outcome if the outcome concords with the agent’s underlying deep attitudes.

So here is a hypothesis about what is going on: In the morally-infused scenarios, people attribute deep attitudes to Janet (e.g., that she deeply hates her boss, is committed to ending her boss’s life, does not care about harming others, and so on), and these attributed deep attitudes are concordant with the outcome she brings about (redirecting the train and killing her boss). So intentionality ratings are higher. In the neutral scenario, they don’t attribute deep attitudes to Janet (what attitudes follow from the fact that she is following a request?), so intentionality ratings are lower.

To test this hypothesis, you could use questions like the following:

* It deeply matters to Janet that the train is redirected.
* Janet cares deeply that the train is redirected.
* It is critical to Janet that the train is redirected.
* Janet is committed to redirecting the train.

Other questions could probe the ‘cross-situational ‘traitiness’ of her motive (deep attitudes are typically more trait-like):

* In the story above, [a person is harmed] or [children are helped] or [insert neutral outcome]. How much do you agree with the following statement:
Janet is likely to, in other contexts and situations, bring about outcomes like this one.

I’ve used questions along these lines to probe attributions of deep attitudes in previous studies. See for example,

I would predict that attributions of deep attitudes would track with intentionality judgments across your vignettes, and this might be interesting to test.

Adam Bear

Hi Professor Sripada,

Thanks for the input! As a matter of fact, Fiery and I have discussed how your "deep self" view might explain our data, and I absolutely agree that the moral conditions might involve "deeper evaluative attitudes" than those in the neutral conditions. We actually have it on our agenda to test some of your hypotheses, and your suggestions for how to test the model are very helpful. If we keep working on this project, we will definitely want to look at how your theory fits in.

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3QD Prize 2012: Wesley Buckwalter