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Am Psychol. 1993 Sep;48(9):957-65.

On sin versus sickness. A theory of perceived responsibility and social motivation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles 90024.


Lack of effort as a cause of achievement failure evokes more punishment than does lack of ability. Perceptions of the controllability of these causes, inferences about personal responsibility, and affective reactions of sympathy and anger mediate between the causal perceptions of ability and effort and punishment responses. This general theory of social motivation explains some reactions to stigmatized persons as well as observations related to help giving, peer rejection, and aggression. The proposed conceptual system distinguishes the reactions to sin versus sickness.

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