An investigation of biased depictions of normality in counterfactual scenario studies

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2008-04-10T05:59:50Z

Authors

Ball, Russell Andrew.

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Abstract

Counterfactual research and Norrn Theory (Kahneman & Miller, 1986) predict that abnormal antecedents will be more mutable than normal antecedents. Individuals who behaved abnormally prior to accidental or criminal victimization (e.g., choosing a different route home) are usually awarded higher compensation than those victimized in more routine circumstances. Abnormality is said to provoke more available alternatives, and is cited as a positive correlate of affect (the emotional amplification hypothesis). Enhanced affective response is said to be responsible for greater compensation to victims and more severe punishment of offenders. This thesis challenged the notion that exceptional circumstances always have more available alternatives than do routine circumstances, incorporating higher methodological rigor and a more realistic legal context than previous studies. Results indicated that the degree of alternative availability is not so much a function of normality itself but of how normality is conveyed in scenarios. Routine circumstances can be just as mutable as exceptional circumstances. Scenario studies investigating criminal punishment which separated alternative availability and normality provided evidence of a moderating effect of availability, as well as an interaction between victim and offender availability. The findings help to revise assertions made by psychological and legal scholars concerning mutability.

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