Nisbett Summary

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NNotes from Nisbett, “Telling more than we can know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes”

Main Points: Evidence shows that there may be little or no direct introspective access to higher order cognitive processes. Subjects are sometimes (a.) unaware of the existence of a stimulus that importantly influenced a response, (b) unaware of the existence of the response and (c) unaware that the stimulus has affected the response. It is proposed that when people attempt to report on their cognitive processes, they do not do so based on any true introspection. Their reports are based on a priori, implicit casual theories or judgments about the extent to which a particular stimulus is a plausible cause of a given response. Although the evidence points that people are unable to use introspection in respect to cognitive processes, they may sometimes be able to report accurately about them. Accurate reports will occur when influential stimuli are salient and plausible causes of the responses they produce.

Notes:
* Social psychologists routinely ask subjects in their experiments why they behaved as they did (i.e., why did you choose that graduate school) * Mandler, Miller and Neisser proposed that people may have no direct access to higher order mental processes, such as used in evaluating judgment, problem solving and behavior * Problems with new anti-introspectivist view: (1) Mandler, Miller and Neisser never stated that people have no direct access to higher order mental processes. Instead, the speculation is not based on research on higher order processes, such as “thinking,” but rather research on more basic processes of perception and memory. There is no conscious awareness of perceptual and memorial processes. (2) People readily answer questions about the reasons for his behavior or evaluations. Subjects usually appear stumped when asked about perceptual or memorial processes, but are quite able to describe why they behaved in such a manner or why they dislike a person. Therefore, it would appear like people have some introspective access to a memory or the process involved. (3) The anti-introspectivist view does not allow for the possibility that people are ever correct about their higher order mental processes (intuitively unlikely that such reports are ALWAYS inaccurate). * Much of the evidence that casts doubt on the ability of people to report on their cognitive processes comes from a consideration of what was not published in that literature. A review of the nonpublic research leads to three conclusions: (1) subjects frequently cannot report on the existence of the chief response that was produced by the manipulation (2) even if they can report the existence of the responses, they do not report that a change process (evaluational or attitudinal response underwent any alterations) occurred (3) subjects cannot correctly identify the stimuli that produced the response. * Insufficient justification or dissonance research states if the behavior is intrinsically undesirable will, when performed for inadequate extrinsic reasons, be seen as more attractive if done for adequate reasons. For example, if people have done something unpleasant without adequate justification, it becomes painful – therefore, people will revise his opinion about the behavior in order to avoid the psychic discomfort * Attribution theory – people strive to discover the causes of attitudinal, emotional and behavioral responses (their own and others) and the resulting casual attributions are a chief determinant of a host of additional attitudinal and behavioral effects. For example, if someone tells us that he likes a horror film, our acceptance of the opinion is based on our causal analysis of the persons’ reasons for the evaluation – does he like movies, does he normally like horror films, etc. Insufficient-justification studies and attribution studies where the subject makes inferences about himself have employed...
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