Objective and Subjective Responsibility in a Judicial Context

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This article concerns itself with the existence of two dimensions of responsibility proposed by Fauconnet (1928): objective responsibility and subjective responsibility. Participants were asked to judge the case of a defendant accused of a crime. The defendant was presented as either internal, external, self-serving, or humble (manipulation of explanatory style). Furthermore, participants had the testimony of the defendant in which she either admitted to having struck the victim (“confession condition”) or to having only paid her a visit (“non-confession condition”). First, participants assessed information pertaining to the association, causation, previsibility, intentionality, and justifications of the defendant (with reference to Heider's five levels of responsibility), then they attributed a degree of responsibility and sanction to the defendant. Factor analysis (ACP) supported the assumption of two dimensions of responsibility and ANOVA showed the differential effect of variables on both types of responsibility. Thus, subjective responsibility is affected neither by the explanatory style of the defendant nor by his or her declarations; inversely objective responsibility is sensitive to these variables. These results support the relevance of the distinction between objective responsibility and subjective responsibility and have theoretical and practical implications.

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