Lucky or clever? From expectations to responsibility judgments


How do people hold others responsible for the consequences of their actions? We propose a computational model that attributes responsibility as a function of what the observed action reveals about the person, and the causal role that the person’s action played in bringing about the outcome. The model first infers what type of person someone is from having observed their action. It then compares a prior expectation of how a person would behave with a posterior expectation after having observed the person’s action. The model predicts that a person is blamed for negative outcomes to the extent that the posterior expectation is lower than the prior, and credited for positive outcomes if the posterior is greater than the prior. We model the causal role of a person’s action by using a counterfactual model that considers how close the action was to having been pivotal for the outcome. The model captures participants’ responsibility judgments to a high degree of quantitative accuracy across three experiments that cover a range of different situations. It also solves an existing puzzle in the literature on the relationship between action expectations and responsibility judgments. Whether an unexpected action yields more or less credit depends on whether the action was diagnostic for good or bad future performance.

Volume 177 of Cognition