Self-presentation strategies and social judgments – desirability and social utility of causal explanations1

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The research reported here examined the desirability and social utility of causal explanations. The first two studies analyzed the causal explanations (internal vs. external) of desirable and undesirable events spontaneously chosen by students to make a good impression on their teachers (self-presentation paradigm). They also compared these students' self-presentational strategies (internal vs. self-serving vs. modest vs. external) with their judgments (judge-paradigm) about four student-targets, each characterized by one of the four strategies, thus including their own, to explain the causes of the same desirable and undesirable events. Study 3 explored how teachers of students in the second study judge the same four student-targets used in the previous studies. Based on the distinction between two types of values – desirability and social utility – it was hypothesized that all participants, even students who previously adopted a desirable self-serving strategy, would in the judge-paradigm prefer the internal target, given the social utility of internal explanations. The hypotheses were confirmed. The relevance of these results for a conception of social utility of internal causal explanations is discussed.

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