Action Embellishment: An Intention Bias in the Perception of Success

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Action Embellishment: An Intention Bias in the Perception of Success

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Title: Action Embellishment: An Intention Bias in the Perception of Success
Author: Wegner, Daniel M.; Preston, Jesse Lee; Ritter, Ryan S.

Note: Order does not necessarily reflect citation order of authors.

Citation: Preston, Jesse Lee, Ryan S. Ritter, and Daniel M. Wegner. 2011. Action embellishment: An intention bias in the perception of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 101(2): 233-244.
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Abstract: Naïve theories of behavior hold that actions are caused by an agent’s intentions, and the subsequent success of an action is measured by the satisfaction of those intentions. But when an action is not as successful as intended, the expected causal link between intention and action may distort perception of the action itself. Four studies found evidence of an intention bias in perceptions of action. Actors perceived actions to be more successful when given a prior choice (e.g., choose between two words to type) and also when they felt greater motivation for the action (e.g., hitting pictures of disliked people). When the intent was to fail (e.g., singing poorly) choice led to worse estimates of performance. A final experiment suggested that intention bias works independent from self-enhancement motives. In observing another actor hit pictures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, shots were distorted to match the actor’s intentions, even when it opposed personal wishes. Together these studies indicate that judgments of action may be automatically distorted, and that these inferences arise from the expected consistency between intention and action in agency.
Published Version: doi:10.1037/a0023231
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Open Access Policy Articles, as set forth at
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