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Hierarchical causal chaining: The impact of necessity, sufficiency, foreseeability, and choice on attributions
AuthorChomos, Julianna C.
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Undesirable and avoidable outcomes are often the result of several parties acting together with each sharing some of the responsibility, blame. Causal chains occur when one party’s actions are contingent on the actions of another party such that they can be viewed as a consequence of the previous actor. How culpability is assessed in such a situation is critical especially in civil law in matters of organizational wrongdoing, as the party that was instrumental in bringing about a negative outcome may have been constrained or enabled by the actions of others. The first goal of the current research is to understand the dynamics of assigning culpability when the causal sequence of events involving multiple human actions produces a negative outcome. A second goal is to examine the implications of individual differences in attitudes and cognitive orientation for the assessment of culpability in the context of such causal chains. The current study (N = 528 MTurk participants) examines the impact of necessity, sufficiency, foreseeability, and choice on attributions of culpability. The study uses a 2 (Top Manager: High vs. low foreseeability) x 2 (Middle Manager: High vs. low foreseeability) x 2 (Top Manager: Choice in decision vs. no choice) x 2 (Middle Manager: Choice in decision vs. no choice) x 2 (Top Manager: Necessary vs. sufficient cause) x 2 (Middle Manager: Necessary vs. sufficient cause) design. The impact of individual differences (e.g., attributional complexity, civil litigation attitudes, and independence/ interdependence) on these relationships is also explored. Results indicated that the closest actor to the wrongdoing tended to be held most culpable. Actor choice and foreseeability were the primary factors in determining culpability, followed by actor necessity/sufficiency, but that all of these elements were impacted by individual difference variables. Although results tended to vary widely, there were still several important findings that inform how individuals determine attributions of culpability within a causal chain.