Effects of Uncontrollability on Subsequent Decision Making: Testing the Cognitive Exhaustion Hypothesis

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The cognitive exhaustion model of helplessness—predicting withdrawal from constructive effortful processing after uncontrollability—was applied to decision making. After unsolvable problems (or no preexposure), Ss requested information from a matrix with 5 alternatives (films) × 10 attributes and then chose the best film. Films in a set were either similar (difficult decision) or dissimilar (easy decision) in attractiveness. As predicted, Ss with an uncontrollable preexposure spent less time on predecisional information search, disregarded their own importance criteria when asking for information, and had attention highly focused on a selected option for the easy decision condition but diffused across options for the difficult decision condition. The implications of these findings for understanding cognitive mechanisms of learned helplessness and depression are discussed.

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