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Punish and Forgive: Causal Attribution and Positivity Bias in Response to Cat and Dog Misbehavior

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College students (N = 366) judged dog or cat misbehavior (soiling or predation) via questionnaire items. Common factor analysis yielded 3 dimensions of student response: (a) the sinner (including the variable of animals' intention); (b) the sin (including the variable of recommended punishment); and (c) mercy (including the variable of recommended forgiveness). Correlations among sinner, sin, and mercy factor scores supported predictions from causal attribution theory. Nevertheless, cross-tabulation analysis revealed that nearly 90% of all respondents endorsed mercy (generally high forgive ratings), regardless of the extent to which the animals were seen as sinners (high versus low intent ratings), or evaluations of the level of sin (high versus low punish ratings). Absolutely high average mercy scores indicated an animal positivity bias. Results thus evoked the adage that "the quality of mercy is not strained." That is, regarding errant companion animals, cognitive responses to punish and to forgive are not always mutually exclusive options.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI); 2: IUPUI


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