Cognitive and Motivational Parameters in Motivated Biases in Human Judgment

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Motivational and cognitive factors can determine the extent and direction of information processing in judgment. When biasing motives are present, information can be distorted and judgment biased. The extent of this bias can be determined by the nature of the information, the relative magnitude of competing goals, and the individual's cognitive resources. Studies 1, 2 and 3 explored the effect of resource depletion on motivated distortions in judgment. Studies 4 and 5 examined the role of relative goal magnitude (of a biasing goal vs. a specific judgment goal) in the phenomena. I departed from the assumption that human knowledge is malleable, and that its alteration in a motivationally desirable direction may vary in difficulty across instances. It was assumed that overcoming the difficulty requires cognitive and/or motivational resources hence under certain circumstances resource-depletion should diminish individuals' ability to motivationally bias judgments. I also hypothesized when information is clear-cut (rather than ambiguous) making distortion difficult, a sufficient amount of biasing motivation could overcome the "reality constraints," holding the cognitive resources constant.

In my first two studies participants' resources were depleted either via complex or simple presentational format of the information given (Study 1), or via engagement in a fatiguing prior activity (Study 2). In the third study (Study 3), I measured participants' stable cognitive capacity as a proxy for their available cognitive resources. All three studies provided supportive evidence for the hypothesis that motivated distortion is resource dependent. In Study 4 I manipulated the relative goal magnitude by experimentally increasing goal importance for either an academic success goal in line with the specific judgment task or a social wellbeing goal as the biasing goal. In Study 5 I altered relative goal magnitude through enhancing either a neutral goal or health concerns as the biasing goal. In both Study 4 and 5, orthogonal to the relative goal magnitude manipulation, stimulus ambiguity was made either high or low. Findings from Study 4 and 5 supported the hypothesis that sufficient magnitude of biasing goal could overcome distortion difficulty even in highly constraining circumstances.