How People React To Social Psychological Accounts of Wrongdoing: The Moderating Effects of Culture

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Leonard S. Newman


Attribution, Cultural psychology, Culture, Social judgment, Social perception, Wrongdoing

Subject Categories



While social psychological research has produced much insight into the causes of human behavior, its emphasis on "the power of the situation" has been met with resistance from laypeople. Previous research found that American participants, when provided with different accounts of wrongdoing, were comfortable endorsing dispositional explanations of the behavior, but suspected that psychologists were exonerating wrongdoers when they were provided with situational explanations. The current study extends this research by examining the moderating effect of culture on laypeople's perceptions of different explanations of wrongdoing. Chinese and American participants read about two hypothetical studies about wrongdoing and learned that either situational factors or personality variables seemed to account for the behavior. They then made responsibility attributions for the wrongdoer from both their own perspective and from what they perceived was the psychologists' perspective. When given dispositional explanations, both Chinese and Americans reported consistency between their own and what they perceived to be the psychologists' perspectives. However, when given situational explanations, although Chinese participants again reported consistency between their own and the psychologists' perspectives, American participants thought the psychologists were exonerating the wrongdoer, an effect that was mediated by their level of agreement with the psychologists' conclusions about human behavior. These findings shed light on why social psychological research sometimes faces a backlash and on cross-cultural variations in how people explain human behaviors. Practical implications of the study include a reminder that when social psychologists package their messages, they should take into account the biases of different targeted audiences.

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