Cusimano, C., Zorrilla, N. C., Danks, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Reason-based constraint in theory of mind. Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , 43 (43), Cognitive Science Society.
In the face of strong evidence that a coin landed heads, can someone simply choose to believe it landed tails? Knowing that a large earthquake could result in personal tragedy, can someone simply choose to desire that it occur? We propose that in the face of strong reasons to adopt a given belief or desire, people are perceived to lack control: they cannot simply believe or desire otherwise. We test this “reason-based constraint” account of mental state change, and find that people reliably judge that evidence constrains belief formation, and utility constrains desire formation, in others. These results were not explained by a heuristic that simply treats irrational mental states as impossible to adopt intentionally. Rather, constraint results from the perceived influence of reasons on reasoning: people judge others as free to adopt irrational attitudes through actions that eliminate their awareness of strong reasons. These findings fill an important gap in our understanding of folk psychological reasoning, with implications for attributions of autonomy and moral responsibility.