Why Do People Tend to Infer “Ought” From “Is”? The Role of Biases in Explanation

Christina M. Tworek, Andrei Cimpian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

People tend to judge what is typical as also good and appropriate—as what ought to be. What accounts for the prevalence of these judgments, given that their validity is at best uncertain? We hypothesized that the tendency to reason from “is” to “ought” is due in part to a systematic bias in people’s (nonmoral) explanations, whereby regularities (e.g., giving roses on Valentine’s Day) are explained predominantly via inherent or intrinsic facts (e.g., roses are beautiful). In turn, these inherence-biased explanations lead to value-laden downstream conclusions (e.g., it is good to give roses). Consistent with this proposal, results from five studies (N = 629 children and adults) suggested that, from an early age, the bias toward inherence in explanations fosters inferences that imbue observed reality with value. Given that explanations fundamentally determine how people understand the world, the bias toward inherence in these judgments is likely to exert substantial influence over sociomoral understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1109-1122
Number of pages14
JournalPsychological Science
Volume27
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

Keywords

  • cognitive development
  • explanation
  • inherence heuristic
  • open data
  • open materials
  • preregistered
  • sociomoral judgments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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