Perish the forethought: Premeditation engenders misperceptions of personal control

Published on May 1, 2010
· DOI :10.1093/ACPROF:OSO/9780195391381.003.0014
Carey K. Morewedge27
Estimated H-index: 27
(CMU: Carnegie Mellon University),
Kurt Gray32
Estimated H-index: 32
(Harvard University),
Daniel M. Wegner85
Estimated H-index: 85
(Harvard University)
People are normally encouraged to engage in premeditation — to think about the potential consequences of their behavior before acting. Indeed, planning, considering, and studying can be important precursors to decision-making, and often seem essential for effective action. This view of premeditation is shared by most humans, a kind of universal ideal, and it carries an additional interesting implication: Even the hint that premeditation occurred can serve as a potent cue indicating voluntary action, both to actors and observers. In legal and moral contexts, for example, actors are seen as especially culpable for the consequences of their actions if those consequences were premeditated, whether or not the premeditation influenced the decision. In this chapter, we review evidence indicating that even irrelevant premeditation can lead people to believe that an action’s consequences were under personal control. We present research exploring how various forms of premeditation — including foresight, effortful forethought, wishful thinking, and the consideration of multiple possible outcomes of action — may lead actors to prefer and to feel responsible for action outcomes even when this premeditation has no causal relation to the outcomes.
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