Causation, Norms, and Cognitive Bias


Extant research has shown that ordinary causal judgments are sensitive to normative factors. For instance, agents who violate a norm are standardly deemed more causal than norm-conforming agents in identical situations. In this paper, we explore two competing explanations for the Norm Effect: the Responsibility View and the Bias View. According to the former, the Norm Effect arises because ordinary causal judgment is intimately intertwined with moral responsibility. According to the alternative view, the Norm Effect is the result of a blame-driven bias. In a series of five preregistered experiments (N = 2688), we present evidence that predominantly favours the Bias View. In particular, and against predictions made by the Responsibility View, we show that participants deem agents who violate nonpertinent or silly norms – norms that do not relate to the outcome at hand – as more causal, and that this effect cannot be explained in terms of plausible mediators such as the agent’s foreknowledge and desire, or the foreseeability of harm. We close with a discussion regarding the implications of these findings, in as regards the just assessment of proximate cause in the law.



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Author Profiles

Levin Güver
University College London
Markus Kneer
University of Graz

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