A recurring theme in attribution theory is that lay explanations for intentional and nonintentional behaviors diverge (Buss, 1978; Fincham & Jaspers, 1980; Kruglanki, 1975; Malle, 2004; White, 1991). In this vein, Reeder (this issue) proposes that they evoke different inferential paths that produce different attributional patterns. In response to nonintentional behavior, perceivers think like scientists, reasoning abstractly about causes, seeking parsimony by discounting personal forces given plausible situational forces. By contrast, in response to intentional behavior, perceivers think like storytellers, positing motives, aims, reasons, inside the actor's mind and drawing conclusions about personal dispositions that cohere with these imputed mental states. The contrast between these divergent paths provides a valuable framework for analyzing past streams of attribution research, interpreting recent findings, and exploring future directions.
This comment considers Reeder's proposal of diverging paths in relation to another duality in social inference research, spontaneous versus deliberate processing. Whereas earlier models of social perception often posited spontaneous and deliberate processes at different steps in an inferential sequence (e.g., Gilbert, Pelham, & Krull, 1988), many recent models hypothesize the existence of dual systems—an evolutionarilyold system of spontaneous, preconscious intuition and an evolutionarily-recent system of deliberate, conscious analysis (e.g., Kahneman, 2003; Lieberman, Gaunt, Gilbert, & Trope, 2002; Smith & DeCoster, 2000). Others, of course, have critiqued the dual systems thesis, holding that social inference processes merely range on a continuum of automaticity (Kruglanksi & Orehek, 2007). Reeder allies himself with this unitary system view, asserting that the proposed divergent attributional paths hold regardless of whether the processing occurs spontaneously or deliberately.
In our view, Reeder's dismissal of the relevance of processing mode is a missed opportunity for theoretical integration and elaboration. Mounting evidence from social cognitive neuroscience (SCN) research has revealed networks of brain regions distinctively recruited in spontaneous and deliberate processing and elucidated functional components of each system (Satpute & Lieberman, 2006). The SCN literature, as we shall see, suggests that intentionality-divergence arguments by Reeder and others may need to be qualified in some respects, for although both systems respect the difference between intentional and nonintentional behavior, they do so in different ways that yield different attributional outcomes. However, on the bright side, SCN research can inform aspects of Reeder's model that are currently underspecified, such as: How do perceivers register that a behavior is intentional versus nonintentional in the first place? And how do perceivers recognize "hard" versus "soft" situational constraints in order to draw different inferences from them?