Choice making and difference making in the perception of control, responsibility, and blame
Gural, Deborah M.
To assess the effects of choice-making and difference-making in relation to a negative event, 291 university students were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: (a) Free-Choice/Outcome-Difference, (b) Free-Choice/No-Outcome-Difference, (c) Restricted-Choice/Outcome-Difference, and (d) Restricted-Choice/No-Outcome-Difference. Participants in all conditions were asked to imagine themselves as the "actor" in a scenario describing the unfolding of a negative event. Participants in Choice conditions were told that the actor had a choice between two possible actions, whereas those in No-Choice conditions were told that the actor was restricted in practice to one of two possible actions. Participants in Outcome-Difference conditions were told that the actor's action made a difference to the occurrence of the negative event, whereas those in No-Outcome-Difference conditions were told that the actor's action was unrelated to the occurrence of the negative event. As predicted, participants in Outcome-Difference conditions gave higher ratings of control than those in No-Outcome-Difference conditions, but the choice manipulation did not affect the dependent variables. Findings support Nickels' (1980) reconceptualization of control, which suggests that making a difference in consequences is a primary factor related to perceptions of control. Findings also support the argument that measures of control, responsibility, and blame should distinguish between perceptions of an event and perceptions of the consequences of an event. The theoretical and methodological implications of the results are discussed.