The Impact of Motivation, Processing Difficulty and Cognitive Resources on the Use of Base-Rates in Social Judgment

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This study explores the impact of motivation, cognitive resources and difficulty of processing on social judgment. We hypothesized and found all three variables influence the type of information used to render judgment. Only when the information was easy to process, cognitive resources were ample and motivation was high were subjects able to use difficult information as a basis for their judgment. Furthermore, contrary to the common notion that statistical information tends to be utilized when resources are high, we were able to show that subjects relied on statistical information when their motivation was low, the information was difficult to process and/or cognitive resources were limited. These results add to the growing body of evidence attesting that the contents of information as such do not affect the likelihood of their being made use of in judgment. Both base-rates and representativeness ("heuristic") information seem to be used in accordance with their subjective relevance - when such relevance is discerned given that the individuals' resources are sufficient to cope with the difficult posed by the cognitive task at hand.