How We Explain Depends on Who We Explain: The Impact of Social Category on the Selection of Causal Comparisons and Causal Explanations

By Sonya GrierAnn McGill
1998| Working Paper No. 1462

Prior research indicates that people’s causal explanations depend on the comparison case against which the event is considered. The present research examines the hypothesis that the casual comparison depends on the social category of the actor in the event. Subjects in three studies placed greater relative emphasis on across-group comparisons than within-group comparisons for actors who were atypical for the event compared to actors who were typical, where typicality was operationalized through race of actor. Subjects’ causal explanations also differed by social category, providing more race related explanations for atypical actors than typical actors. Findings are related to prior research on social identity and stereotypes which have addressed the impact of social category on causal explanations.