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Perspective in intentional action attribution

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In two experiments, we demonstrate that intentional action intuitions vary as a function of whether one brings about or observes an event. In experiment 1a (N = 38), participants were less likely to judge that they intended (M = 2.53, 7 point scale) or intentionally (M = 2.67) brought about a harmful event compared to intention (M = 4.16) and intentionality (M = 4.11) judgments made about somebody else. Experiments 1b and 1c confirmed and extended this pattern of actor-observer differences. Experiment 2 suggested that these actor-observer differences are not likely to occur when participants are asked to “imagine” being an actor. We argue that these results challenge the substantial philosophical and empirical reliance on hypothetical thought examples about intentional action. Our data offer new and necessary methodological avenues for understanding folk intentional action intuitions.

Keywords: Behavioral Economics; Experimental Philosophy; Individual Differences; Intentional Action; Intuitions; Knobe Effect

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2012

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