Intent vs Affect

In class on Friday, we had a discussion on consent and Brianne mentioned a good point about not understanding ones intent. Currently I am doing research with the Psychology department where we have to determine behaviors between siblings and their peers. In lab, we watch videos of children interacting and we have to determine the quality of their social interaction. For example if two kids are playing together and one of them begins to mock the other one, we have to determine whether this is a positive or negative interaction. Are they doing this to make a joke, or to intentionally hurt the other kid? This has been the cause of some serious debates within my research group because at times we really can’t tell whether or not the kid in the video was acting maliciously or not but our way of settling all debates is to value the kids intent over the effect of their behavior.

Our discussion in class about intent brought me to think of my research group and I started to wonder, do we ever truly know someones intent? We can very well assume that the child mocked another because they wanted to be mean but unless we ask them, we may never know. Either way, if the other child’s feelings are hurt, the intent seems to no longer matter and what is more important is the effect the mocking had on them.  Similarly, we may assume that in a case of sexual assault that the perpetrator didn’t intend to hurt the victim but the effect is ever lasting. This brings me to consider Butler’s fiction where everyone may think that Bloodchild is about slavery and that Butler’s intent was clear, even when she publicly stated in her Afterword that it wasn’t. The idea of intent becomes this hazy subjective world where we can at most, assume what the person meant, but it ends up not being as important as the effect they leave behind.

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