The Role of Control in Attributing Intentional Agency to Inanimate Objects

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
Amanda Hankes Johnson
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Justin Barrett
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Previous research into the perception of agency has found that objects in twodimensional displays that move along non-inertial-looking paths are frequently attributed intentional agency, including beliefs and desires. The present experiment re-addressed this finding using a tangible, interactive, electromagnetic puzzle. The experimental manipulation was whether or not participants controlled the electromagnet that moved the marbles along unexpected trajectories. Thirty-one college undergraduates participated. Participants who lacked control over the movement of the marbles were significantly more likely to attribute agency to the marbles. Participants in control of the display rarely attributed intentional agency to the marbles. Implications are discussed for the identification of agents in the real world.

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