Motivated Social Cognition & Identity-Protective Cognition

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Motivated Social Cognition & Identity-Protective Cognition

Post01 Dec 2013

Humans show a broad array of defensive strategies which suggest patterns of biased information processing that protects or enhances their self-image. The motivation to see oneself and one's actions in a positive manner leads to a wide variety of biases in information processing.

For example, people have been shown to keep gathering information when they do not like the conclusions it proves, but to stop quickly when they do. Similarly, people doubt the veracity of the evidence when they do not like the conclusions, but they accept the same evidence when they do.

People who have high explicit but low implicit self-esteem show a wide array of self-protective biases, from enhanced ingroup bias to increased efforts at dissonance reduction.

Such data suggest that certain types of people are particularly likely to show biased information processing in an effort to defend the self against perceived threats to its integrity.

What is interesting is that people who can processes information in a self-serving, biased manner may actually live in a different, more congenial world than a person in similar circumstances who processes information in a less biased manner. Thus, self-serving processing might represent the first and most important line of defense in protecting the self from the psychological consequences of a threatening or simply imperfect world.

Although, across three different studies, people who rated a task at which they succeeded as more important than a task at which they failed, tended to cheat on a series of problems, proving a relationship between self-serving processing and cheating.

Group membership has also been shown to affect how people process information about nearly all categories of stimuli in the social world. Individuals tend to adopt the beliefs common to members of salient “in-groups”. They also resist revision of those beliefs in the face of contrary factual information, particularly when that information originates from “out group” sources, who are likely to be perceived as less knowledgeable and less trustworthy than “in group” ones.

Identity-protective cognition is one proposed mechanism for this set of dynamics.
Kahan, Dan wrote:Individual well-being is intricately bound up with group membership, which supplies indi- viduals not only with material benefits but a range of critical nonmaterial ones including opportunities to acquire status and self-esteem. Challenges to commonly held group beliefs can undermine a person’s well-being either by threatening to drive a wedge between that person and other group members, by interfering with important practices within the group, or by impugning the social competence (and thus the esteem-conferring capacity) of a group generally. Accordingly, as a means of identity self-defense, indi- viduals conform their appraisals of information in a manner that buttresses beliefs associated with belonging to particular groups .

The existence of identity-protective cognition is most convincingly supported by studies that investigate how group membership interacts with diverse forms of reasoning. Even someone whose sense of worth was not invested in any profound way in group membership might treat the views of those he associates with and trusts as a rough indicator of the accuracy of a commonly held belief. But experimental studies show the impact of group membership on belief formation is not confined to this experience based ones; the perceived predominance of a belief within a group influences information processing even when a member of that group uses systematic reasoning, which is characterized by a relatively high degree of deliberate, critical analysis.

In effect, an unself-conscious desire to affirm group beliefs motivates both experience-based and systematic reasoning, determining which form a person will employ and to what end. The motivational effect of group membership on information processing is most easily explained by the inference that individuals do have a profound emotional and psychic investment in seeing their groups beliefs confirmed.
    Cohen, G. L. (2003). Party over Policy: The Dominating Impact of Group Influence on Political Beliefs.

    Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation. Psych. Bull., 117, 497-529.

    Mackie, D. M., & Quellar, S. (2000). The Impact of Group Membership on Persuasion: Revisiting “Who Says What to Whom with What Effect?”

    Clark, R. D., & Maass, A. (1988). The Role of Social Categorization and Perceived Source Credibility in Minority Influence.

    Kahan, Dan M. (2007). Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception.

    von Hippel, William., Lakin, Jessica L., Shakarchi, Richard J. Individual Differences in Motivated Social Cognition: The Case of Self-Serving Information Processing

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