One of the central elements of social cognition, and people's folk theory of mind in particular, is the concept of intentionality (Malle, Moses, & Baldwin, 2001b). It structures people’s perception of behavior from infancy on, grows to a complex conceptual framework that links behavior to mind, and underlies distinct information processing paths in the explanation, prediction, and moral evaluation of behavior. The growing research on intentionality cuts across developmental, social, and cognitive psychology as well primatology, philosophy, and the law (Malle, Moses, & Baldwin, 2001a).

In our early work (Malle & Knobe, 1997a), we demonstrated the complexity but at the same time consistency of people’s intentionality judgments. We identified five components that make up people’s concept of intentionality: An action is considered intentional if the agent has (a) a desire for an outcome, (b) a belief that the action will lead to the outcome, (c) an intention to perform the action, (d) skill to perform the action, and (e) awareness while performing it.

Subsequently we examined in more detail the differentiation of intention from desire (Malle & Knobe, 2001). The two concepts are often used interchangeably in the literature, but people make a clear distinction between them in terms of three features. First, the representational content of an intention can only be the agent's action (e.g., She intends to walk; he intends to buy a hat); the content of a desire can be any conceivable event or state (e.g., She wants him to lose weight; he wants to be rich). Second, desires are an input to practical reasoning whereas intentions are the ouput of such reasoning (e.g., she wants to be punctual... therefore... she plans to take the express train). Third, intentions carry a commitment to act whereas desires do not.

We have applied this model of people's concept of intentionality to questions of law and mental health (Malle & Nelson, 2003; Malle, 2003) and, increasingly, to moral judgments (Guglielmo & Malle, 2010a, 2010b; Guglielmo, Monroe, & Malle, 2009; Malle, 2006; Malle & Guglielmo, 2011). For example, we have proposed a model of blame in which intentionality judgments represent the pivotal step that guides further information leading to judgments of blame (Figure 2; Guglielmo et al., 2009; Malle, Guglielmo, & Monroe, 2012).

Malle, B. F.,  Guglielmo, S., & Monroe, A. E. (2012).  Moral, cognitive, and social: The nature of blame.  In J. Forgas, K. Fiedler, and C. Sedikides (Eds.), Social thinking and interpersonal behaviour (14th Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

Malle, B. F., & Guglielmo, S. (2011). Are intentionality judgments fundamentally moral?  In C. Mackenzie and R. Langdon (Eds.), Emotion, imagination, and moral reasoning (Macquarie monographs in cognitive science) (pp. 275-293). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

Guglielmo, S., & Malle, B. F. (2010a). Can unintended side-effects be intentional? Resolving a controversy over intentionality and morality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 1635-1647.

Guglielmo, S., & Malle, B. F. (2010b). Enough skill to kill: Intentionality judgments and the moral valence of action. Cognition, 117, 139-150.

Guglielmo, S., Monroe, A. E., Malle, B. F. (2009). At the heart of morality lies folk psychology. Inquiry, 52, 449-466.

Malle, B. F. (2006). The relation between judgments of intentionality and morality. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 6, 61-86.

Malle, B. F. (2003). The social cognition of intentional action. In P. W. Halligan, C. Bass, & D. Oakley (Eds.), Malingering and illness deception (pp. 81-90). Oxford University Press.

Malle, B. F., & Nelson, S. E. (2003). Judging mens rea: The tension between folk concepts and legal concepts of intentionality. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 21, 563-580.

Malle, B. F., & Knobe, J. (2001). The distinction between desire and intention: A folk-conceptual analysis. In B. F. Malle, L. J. Moses, & D. A. Baldwin (Eds.), Intentions and intentionality: Foundations of social cognition. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Malle, B.F. & Knobe, J. (1997a). The folk concept of intentionality. Jounal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33, 101-121.

Malle, B. F., Moses, L. J., & Baldwin, D. A. (Eds.) (2001a). Intentions and intentionality: Foundations of social cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pdf

Malle, B. F., Moses, L. J., & Baldwin, D. A. (2001b). Introduction: The significance of intentionality. In B. F. Malle, L. J. Moses, & D. A. Baldwin (Eds.), Intentions and intentionality: Foundations of social cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. pdf