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Why We Take Credit for Good Things, Dodge Blame for Bad

Why We Take Credit for Good Things, Dodge Blame for BadNew research suggests the way we feel about things depends on if our action results in a positive or negative outcome.

That is, when something we do produces a positive result, we actually perceive it differently than we would if that same action yielded a negative result.

Researchers learned that people feel a greater connection between voluntary actions and their outcomes if those outcomes are good than if they are bad.

The discovery, reported in the journal Current Biology, provides important insight into notions about personal responsibility.

“Our result suggests that people may really experience less responsibility for negative than for positive outcomes,” said cognitive psychologist Dr. Patrick Haggard at University College London.

“This is not merely a retrospective justification about how well we have done: the actual experience that we have changes, even in basic aspects like its timing.”

The researchers used a standard approach to explore a phenomenon known as “sense of agency,” which refers to the feeling that one’s voluntary actions produce some external sensory event.

For instance, Haggard explains, if you flip a light switch and a light comes on, you often experience those events as nearly simultaneous, even if there is a bit of a lag.

Haggard’s team wondered whether our perception of time might depend on the emotional outcome of an action.

To find out, they tested people by asking them to press a key. Those key presses were followed with negative sounds of fear or disgust, positive sounds of achievement or amusement, or neutral sounds. Participants were then asked to estimate when they had made the action or when they had heard the sound.

These studies reveal that individuals sense a longer time lag between their own actions and the response when those responses are negative than when they are positive. In other words, people actually experience a lower sense of agency for actions associated with a negative outcome.

The findings may help to explain why people are generally ready to take credit for good outcomes but not to accept responsibility for bad ones, the researchers say.

It might also reveal why blame can be so much harder to accept than praise.

People may actually experience different levels of responsibility in the two situations. But that’s not to say that they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions.

“The way we experience agency is not the same as the fact of agency,” Haggard said.

“We have to take responsibility for what we actually do, not just for how we experience things.”

Source: Cell Press

Why We Take Credit for Good Things, Dodge Blame for Bad

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Why We Take Credit for Good Things, Dodge Blame for Bad. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 4 Oct 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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