Is the Knobe Effect due to Error Management? A Functional Approach to the Side-Effect Effect

  • Ryo Oda Nagoya Institute of Technology
Keywords: experimental philosophy, Knobe effect, side-effect effect, intentionality, error management theory, false negative


The Knobe effect (side-effect effect) is a tendency to ascribe intentionality in cases of negative, but not positive, side effects. From an adaptive point of view, one possible function of attributing intentionality is to make it easier to predict the actor’s future actions. When the cost of false negatives (i.e., missing an existing intentionality) is high, the need to deal with future actions of the perpetrator increases, which would lead to an increase in the degree of intentionality attribution. This study uses the “lieutenant scenario” to examine whether increasing the severity of side-effect outcome, as the cost of false negatives, facilitates intentionality attribution. Although the side-effect effect was replicated, the results show that the severity of the consequences of the effect did not affect the magnitude of intentionality attribution. Only the positive or negative outcome known to the actor affected the magnitude of intentionality attribution, which might be consistent with the idea that the Knobe effect arises as a result of responding to different mental states of the actor.

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