Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Outcome Matters More Than Intention When Punishing Or Rewarding Accidents

Date:
August 28, 2009
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
New research finds that when choosing to punish or reward accidental behavior, individuals tend to focus on outcome, rather than a person's intent.

Outcomes matter more than intention when choosing to punish or reward individuals who've caused accidents, according to new research from Harvard University.

Related Articles


Published in PLoS One, the study was led by Fiery Cushman, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, along with Anna Dreber of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard and the Stockholm School of Economics.

"Punishing those who've caused accidents seems to be something that people do routinely" says Cushman. "I think that it's useful for ordinary people and policymakers to notice this and to ask whether it might be fairer to focus on intent."

He says that while we may not often consider – and might even disavow – our tendency to punish those who've inadvertently caused damage, it's possible that punishing accidents has an adaptive value by teaching others when to "watch out."

The findings have implications for legal and policy decisions, since our laws often punish accidental outcomes, regardless of intent. For example, Cushman says, a distracted driver talking on a cell phone who causes property damage generally receives a much more lenient sentence than one who crashes into a person – even though the nature of the damage is pure chance.

Cushman's study involved a two-player economic game where one participant had some control over how to allocate $10. By choosing which of three dice to roll, this player could try to keep all the money, a tactic referred to as "stingy" in this study; give the money to a second player, a behavior called "generous"; or split the money evenly, called "fair."

Each of the three dice was weighted with a high probability for either a stingy, generous, or fair outcome. By selecting the stingy die, the participant demonstrates intent to keep all the money, but an "accidental" generous outcome remains possible. Similarly, an unexpected stingy outcome is possible even when using the generous die.

After the die was rolled and the outcome determined, the second player had the opportunity to punish or reward the first by subtracting from or adding to their winnings. The second player tended to deduct money from the first if he or she didn't receive any money, even when the intention was to be fair or generous. Similarly, when the first player hoped to keep all the money but a generous outcome resulted, the second player gave more money to the first.

"If you chose the stingy die and were trying to keep the money for yourself, but it happened to all go to me, I tend to reward that behavior," says Cushman. "And if you chose the generous die that was supposed to give all of the money to me, but then accidentally it came up that the money went to you, I might actually tend to punish that behavior, even though there was a generous intention."

Previous work in behavioral economics has argued that intent drives punishments and rewards. Past studies by Cushman and others have challenged this assumption, but only by posing questions about hypothetical scenarios. In future research, Cushman plans to examine whether focusing on outcome or intent can shape behavior.

Cushman and Dreber's co-authors are Ying Wang and Jay Costa, both of whom contributed to the research as Harvard undergraduates.

The research was funded by the Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative at Harvard University.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Outcome Matters More Than Intention When Punishing Or Rewarding Accidents." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090827123214.htm>.
Harvard University. (2009, August 28). Outcome Matters More Than Intention When Punishing Or Rewarding Accidents. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090827123214.htm
Harvard University. "Outcome Matters More Than Intention When Punishing Or Rewarding Accidents." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090827123214.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Are Female Bosses More Likely To Be Depressed?

Newsy (Nov. 24, 2014) — A new study links greater authority with increased depressive symptoms among women in the workplace. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) — Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins