When Conflicts Are Good: Nonconscious Goal Conflicts Reduce Confirmatory Thinking

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Abstract

In this article, we argue that nonconscious goal conflicts are accompanied by a mindset that has wide-ranging implications for reasoning and thinking in content areas that are not part of the conflict itself. Specifically, we propose that nonconscious goal conflicts induce a mode of processing information that increases the likelihood of approaching an issue from opposing perspectives. This hypothesis is examined by investigating the effects of nonconscious goal conflicts on confirmatory thinking, that is, a way of thinking that narrowly focuses on confirmation rather than on broader examination of information. In 5 experiments, we show that nonconscious goal conflicts significantly reduce confirmatory hypothesis testing (Experiments 1 through 3) and anchoring (Experiments 4 and 5). We further show that these effects result from a goal conflict by rejecting explanations based on priming of semantic opposites, and priming of multiple goals that do not conflict (Experiments 2 and 3), and by examining decision times as a conflict process variable (Experiment 5). Using various probes, we show that these changes in confirmatory judgments are not accompanied by changes in conflict phenomenology. Together, these results suggest that nonconscious goal conflicts attenuate the robust confirmatory thinking strategy that characterizes human thinking in numerous domains.

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