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A Causal Model of Intentionality Judgment


  • This work was supported by NSF Award 0518147 to Steven Sloman and by an American Psychological Association dissertation research award to Phil Fernbach. We thank Jonathan Bogard for help collecting data and Jonathan, Adam Darlow, Steve Guglielmo, Josh Knobe, Tania Lombrozo, and Bertram Malle for helpful discussion.

Steven Sloman, Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Box 1821, Providence, RI 02912, USA.


We propose a causal model theory to explain asymmetries in judgments of the intentionality of a foreseen side-effect that is either negative or positive (Knobe, 2003). The theory is implemented as a Bayesian network relating types of mental states, actions, and consequences that integrates previous hypotheses. It appeals to two inferential routes to judgment about the intentionality of someone else's action: bottom-up from action to desire and top-down from character and disposition. Support for the theory comes from three experiments that test the prediction that bottom-up inference should occur only when the actor's primary objective is known. The model fits intentionality judgments reasonably well with no free parameters.