Effects of Manipulation on Attributions of Causation, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility

Dylan Murray, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


If someone brings about an outcome without intending to, is she causally and morally responsible for it? What if she acts intentionally, but as the result of manipulation by another agent? Previous research has shown that an agent's mental states can affect attributions of causal and moral responsibility to that agent, but little is known about what effect one agent's mental states can have on attributions to another agent. In Experiment 1, we replicate findings that manipulation lowers attributions of responsibility to manipulated agents. Experiments 2–7 isolate which features of manipulation drive this effect, a crucial issue for both philosophical debates about free will and attributions of responsibility in situations involving social influence more generally. Our results suggest that “bypassing” a manipulated agent's mental states generates the greatest reduction in responsibility, and we explain our results in terms of the effects that one agent's mental states can have on the counterfactual relations between another agent and an outcome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-481
Number of pages35
JournalCognitive science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Bypassing
  • Causal chains
  • Causation
  • Free will
  • Intention
  • Manipulation
  • Moral responsibility


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