Understanding conditional promises and threats

Thinking and Reasoning 11 (3):209 – 238 (2005)
Conditional promises and threats are speech acts that are used to manipulate other people's behaviour. Studies on human reasoning typically use propositional logic to analyse what people infer from such inducements. While this approach is sufficient to uncover conceptual features of inducements, it fails to explain them. To overcome this limitation, we propose a multilevel analysis integrating motivational, linguistic, deontic, behavioural, and emotional aspects. Commonalities and differences between conditional promises and threats on various levels were examined in two experiments. The first shows that both types of inducements are understood as being complementary on the linguistic level, but not reversible, due to the specific temporal order of their actions. In addition, it gives a first assessment of emotional reactions. The second experiment investigated the novel question of whether complementary promises and threats, despite semantic differences, both imply an obligation to cooperate on the deontic level. The data corroborate this hypothesis, and they support various appraisal-theoretical assumptions on the elicitation of emotions. They also reveal that content affects not only the attribution of emotions, but also the deontic interpretation.
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