Testing Hypotheses About Social Targets: The Effects of Instructions on Asymmetric Strategies

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Abstract

The information search process is a critical cognitive activity in many domains, such as in legal investigations and criminal judgments. Previous research focused on leading strategies, in particular on the use of open and matching questions. The present research aimed to explore the use of asymmetric questions, namely dichotomous queries for which the “yes” and “no” answers are not equally diagnostic, during social hypothesis testing. In Study 1 (N = 253) participants were asked to select questions to assess a social target on some moral and nonmoral attributes. Explicit instructions to avoid asymmetric strategies were introduced. In Study 2 (N = 98) participants were asked to play the role of a judge who is supposed to be impartial. Results showed that, although people spontaneously use asymmetric yes-no format questions during the information search on moral traits, in certain conditions the use of such strategies could be monitored. Practical implications of these findings are discussed.

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