If negligence is intentionality's cousin, recklessness is it's sibling: Differentiating negligence and recklessness from accidents and intentional harm

Cassandra Flick, Narina Nuñez, Sean M. Laurent

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Previous research has examined lay conceptualizations of intentionality and negligence. This work has shown that intentionality is attributed when several key mental states are perceived as simultaneously present (i.e., knowledge, desire, awareness, and intent), suggesting an actor was trying to bring about an outcome by acting in a particular way. Following this, research has shown that attributions of negligence—a judgment that is applied when a person's actions unintentionally lead to material or physical harm—rely on beliefs that similar mental states are present (e.g., knowledge and awareness), but when intent to harm is absent. Yet, no in-depth investigations into recklessness and its relation to negligence and intentionality have been reported, despite recklessness being theorized as occupying a conceptual space between negligent and intentional harm. Across four studies (N = 2,092), the current research begins filling this gap. Results show that folk conceptualizations of recklessness are associated with similar (e.g., knowledge) but distinct (e.g., uncaring desire, disregard of risk) mental states from those of intentionality and negligence. In addition, the current studies also demonstrate how negativity in evaluations respectively track a full continuum of harm judgments running from accidents through negligence to recklessness and intentional harm. Moreover, the current work shows how evaluations of recklessness are situated between negligent and intentional harm, with negligence situated between accidents (i.e., where harm was not caused by an actor's actions) and recklessness, with each concept sharing some features (but not others) with both adjacent concepts. Implications for social and legal psychology are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104529
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Jan 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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