Intentional Sin and Accidental Virtue? Cultural Differences in Moral Systems Influence Perceived Intentionality

Cory J. Clark, Christopher W. Bauman, Shanmukh V. Kamble, Eric D. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Indians and U.S. Americans view harmful actions as morally wrong, but Indians are more likely than U.S. Americans to perceive helping behaviors as moral imperatives. We utilize this cultural variability in moral belief systems to test whether and how moral considerations influence perceptions of intentionality (as suggested by theories of folk psychology). Four experiments found that Indians attribute more intentionality than U.S. Americans for helpful but not harmful (Studies 1–4) or neutral side effects (Studies 2 and 3). Also, cross-cultural differences in intentionality judgments for positive actions reflect stronger praise motives (Study 3), and stronger devotion to religious beliefs and practices among Hindus (Study 4). These results provide the first direct support for the claim that features of moral belief systems influence folk psychology, and further suggest that the influence is not inherently asymmetrical; motivation to either blame or praise can influence judgments of intentionality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-82
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • attribution
  • cross-cultural differences
  • intentionality
  • morality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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