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IACM 2023

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What Makes You Think That? The Causes and Consequences of Perceived Agency In Belief Formation

When we disagree with someone, how do our perceptions of how they formed their beliefs affect our willingness to engage with them? In 4 experiments (N = 2,449) and an additional lab study currently in progress, we find that compared to ingroup members, people deny outgroup members agency in forming their beliefs while also holding them more morally responsible and blameworthy (Studies 1-2). While these findings contradict predictions from Moral Typecasting Theory (MTT), we find that experimentally manipulating outgroup agency in belief formation affects attributions of blame in a way that is consistent with MTT. Although highly agentic outgroup members are seen as more blameworthy, disagreeing counterparts rate them as more open-minded and more willing to engage in conversation about the moralized issue (Studies 3 & 4). This research sheds light on how perceptions of others’ belief formation processes affect attributions of blame and willingness to engage.

Trevor Spelman
Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management
United States

Eli Finkel
Northwestern University
United States


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