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Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2008 Oct;34(10):1371-81. doi: 10.1177/0146167208321594. Epub 2008 Jul 21.

Culpable control and counterfactual reasoning in the psychology of blame.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA.


Many counterfactual reasoning studies assess how people ascribe blame for harmful actions. By itself, the knowledge that a harmful outcome could easily have been avoided does not predict blame. In three studies, the authors showed that an outcome's mutability influences blame and related judgments when it is coupled with a basis for negative evaluations. Study 1 showed that mutability influenced blame and compensation judgments when a physician was negligent but not when the physician took reasonable precautions to prevent harm. Study 2 showed that this finding was attenuated when the victim contributed to his own demise. In Study 3, whether an actor just missed arriving on time to see his dying mother or had no chance to see her influenced his blameworthiness when his reason for being late provided a basis for negative evaluations but made no difference when there was a positive reason for the delay. These findings clarify the conditions under which an outcome's mutability is likely to influence blame and related attributions.

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