Expectations bias judgments of harm against others

Powell, D., Horne, Z. (2018). Expectations bias judgments of harm against others. Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.


People’s expectations play an important role in their evaluations and reactions to events. There is often disappointment when events fail to meet expectations–sometimes even when the events are still positive overall–and there is a special thrill to having one’s expectations exceeded. In four studies, we examined how expectations influence people’s judgments of events where another person or people were harmed. Participants judged pairs of events where a victim experienced a similar harm, but where victims were at different prior risk of being harmed. We found that people judged these events as being worse when they were less expected–that is, when the victims were initially at lower risk of being harmed. We argue that this bias has pernicious moral consequences.

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