The effect of action and inaction goals on the use of cognitive heuristics
Sollars, Christopher Mark
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Cognitive heuristics are "rules of thumb" individuals use to complete a task or arrive at a decision with relatively small amounts of mental effort (Simon, 1990). Therefore, if individuals are effortfully processing information, they might be less likely to rely on cognitive heuristics to make decisions and form judgments. Along those lines, previous research on action and inaction goals has revealed that action-primed individuals rely on effortful or less effortful cognitive processes to form judgments or decisions, depending on the situation. For instance, Albarracin et al. (2008) showed that individuals primed with action (versus inaction) engaged in more effortful thought as evidenced by greater correct recall of a text book passage. However, Albarracin and Handley (2009) demonstrated that individuals primed with action (versus inaction) processed a persuasive message less when they already had a pre-existing attitude toward the message topic. Given that action goals can result in more or less cognitive effort, it appears reasonable to predict that action goals can sometimes lead to more or less reliance on cognitive heuristics. Further, action goals might accentuate the dominant cognitive activity of a given situation. Therefore, action (versus inaction) goals should increase thinking for situations in which individuals think, but increase use of cognitive heuristics in situations in which the default cognitive process is less effortful. The current experiment examined this possibility using a persuasion framework. Specifically, participants were primed with either action or inaction prior to reading a strong message about a fictitious grain product. While reading the message participants were either distracted or not distracted, respectively compromising or leaving intact their ability to think effortfully. Additionally, the ostensible source of the message was either an expert or a non-expert, which served as a cue participants could use in heuristic processing. Reliance on cognitive heuristics was measured by the extent to which participants relied on peripheral cues (i.e., message source) versus message content in the formation of attitudes concerning the topic. However, results revealed no significant differences in attitudes across conditions. Several possible explanations for these null results were identified.