Caught Red-Minded: Evidence-Induced Denial of Mental Transgressions

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Abstract

We suggest that when confronted with evidence of their socially inappropriate thoughts and feelings, people are sometimes less likely—and not more likely—to acknowledge them because evidence can elicit psychological responses that inhibit candid self-reflection. In 3 studies, participants were induced to exhibit racial bias (Study 1) or to experience inappropriate sexual arousal (Studies 2 and 3). Some participants were then told that the researcher had collected physiological evidence of these mental transgressions. Results showed that participants who were told about the evidence were less willing to acknowledge their mental transgressions, but only if they were told before they had an opportunity to engage in self-reflection. These results suggest that under some circumstances, confronting people with public evidence of their private shortcomings can be counterproductive.

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