Are actions better than inactions? Positivity, outcome, and intentionality biases in judgments of action and inaction

Aashna Sunderrajan, Dolores Albarracín

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Behavior varies along a continuum of activity, with effortful behaviors characterizing actions and restful states characterizing inactions. Despite the adaptive value of both action and inaction, we propose three biases that, in the absence of other information, increase the probability that people like, and want to pursue, action more than inaction: An action positivity bias, an action outcome bias, and an action intentionality bias. Across four experiments, participants not only evaluated actions more favorably than inactions (Experiment 1–3) but also chose to engage in actions more than inactions (Experiment 4). This action positivity bias was driven by the two interrelated biases of outcome positivity and intentionality (Experiments 1–3), such that actions (versus inactions) were spontaneously thought of as having more positive outcomes and as being more intentional. Moreover, these outcome differences played a stronger role in the action positivity bias than did the intentionality differences (Experiment 3). As balancing action and inaction is important for healthy human functioning, it is important to understand evaluative biases in this domain. All experiments were preregistered, and one involved a nationally representative sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104105
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume94
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2021

Keywords

  • Action
  • Bias
  • Evaluation
  • Inaction
  • Intentionality
  • Outcome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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