Choice as an Engine of Analytic Thought

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Abstract

Choice is a behavioral act that has a variety of well-documented motivational consequences—it fosters independence by allowing people to simultaneously express themselves and influence the environment. Given the link between independence and analytic thinking, the current research tested whether choice also leads people to think in a more analytic rather than holistic manner. Four experiments demonstrate that making choices, recalling choices, and viewing others make choices leads people to think more analytically, as indicated by their attitudes, perceptual judgments, categorization, and patterns of attention allocation. People who made choices scored higher on a subjective self-report measure of analytic cognition compared to whose did not make a choice (pilot study). Using an objective task-based measure, people who recalled choices rather than actions were less influenced by changes in the background when making judgments about focal objects (Experiment 1). People who thought of others’ behaviors as choices rather than actions were more likely to group objects based on categories rather than relationships (Experiment 2). People who recalled choices rather than actions subsequently allocated more visual attention to focal objects in a scene (Experiment 3). Together, these experiments demonstrate that choice has important yet previously unexamined consequences for basic psychological processes such as attention and cognition.

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