Strategy Motivated Thinking

Although outcome-motivated thinking has been the most widely studied form of motivated reasoning, other varieties of motivational influences on cognition are also possible. One alternate perspective that has more recently emerged and complements an outcome-based view proposes that people are motivated not only with respect to the outcomes of their judgments but also with respect to the manner in which they go about making these judgments. That is, not only do people have preferred conclusions, but they also have preferred strategies for reaching their conclusions (Higgins & Molden, 2003; cf. Tyler & Blader, 2000). Therefore, independent of whatever outcome holds the most interest for them, people may be motivated to reach these outcomes using strategies that "feel right" in terms of, and allow them to sustain, their current motivational orientation (e.g., eagerly gathering evidence that might support a positive self-view or facilitate cognitive closure versus vigilantly suppressing evidence that could undermine a positive self-view or threaten cognitive closure).

Several lines of research have examined how motivations for particular judgment strategies can also influence people's basic cognitive processes. In the vast majority of these studies, strategic motivations were measured and manipulated in terms of people's regulatory focus (see Higgins, 1997).

Regulatory focus theory distinguishes between two basic motivational orientations: a promotion focus involving concerns with advancement and approaching gains versus avoiding nongains, and a prevention focus involving concerns with security and approaching nonlosses versus avoiding losses. Because it centers on the presence and absence of positive outcomes, a promotion focus has been found to create preferences for eager judgment strategies that emphasize advancement (or, to use signal detection terminology, finding hits) and ensure against overlooking something that might be important (or, to again use signal detection terminology, avoiding errors of omission). In contrast, because it centers on the presence and absence of negative outcomes, a prevention focus has been found to engender preferences for vigilant judgment strategies that emphasize protection (or making correct rejections) and ensure against committing to something that might be a mistake (or avoiding errors of commission; see Higgins & Molden, 2003). Therefore, even in circumstances in which individuals are pursuing the same outcome, they may show marked differences in their pursuit of this outcome depending upon whether they are currently promotion focused or prevention focused. The studies reviewed here are intended to illustrate the effects of eager or vigilant strategic motivation on several types of thought processes similar to those found to be influenced by outcome motivation (for a larger overview, see Higgins & Molden, 2003).

effects on the consideration of alternative hypotheses

Considering alternative hypotheses is a fundamental component of many varieties of thinking (see Sloman & Lagnado, Chap. 5). How might eager versus vigilant strategic preferences influence this process? In general, an eager strategy of considering alternatives would involve attempting to attain hits and to ensure against errors of omission by generating and selecting any plausible hypotheses that could remotely be correct. However, a vigilant strategy of considering alternatives would involve attempting to make correct rejections and to ensure against errors of commission by generating and selecting only the most probable hypotheses that seem likely to be correct. Therefore people in a promotion focus would be expected to consider a greater number of alternatives during thinking and reasoning than people in a prevention focus.

This question was addressed in several studies by Liberman, Molden, Idson, and Higgins (2001 ). One important instance of considering alternatives occurs when people form hypotheses about what they are perceiving (see Tversky, Chap. 10). Therefore, Liberman et al. (2001) examined the effects of people's strategic preferences on a task where people identified vague and distorted objects in a series of photographs. Across several studies in which a promotion or prevention focus was both measured as an individual differences variable and induced experimentally, results indicated that those in a promotion focus generated a greater number of alternatives for the identity of the objects than those in a prevention focus (see also Crowe & Higgins, 1997).

In addition to examining the effects of strategic preferences on generating alternative hypotheses for object perception, Liberman et al. (2001 ) also investigated whether similar effects occurred for social perception. Participants read a scenario describing the helpful behavior of a target person and were asked to evaluate several equally plausible alternative explanations for this behavior. Consistent with the results described previously, participants in a promotion focus again selected a greater number of alternative explanations than participants in a prevention focus. Moreover, these effects were also found to influence the general impressions people formed of the target. After selecting their reasons for the target's helpful behavior, participants predicted how helpfully he or she would behave in the future. Those in a promotion focus, because they were considering more interpretations of a target's behavior, formed more equivocal impressions and showed relatively little generalization about the target's behavior as compared with those in a prevention focus (see Kelley, 1973).

Finally, additional research by Molden and Higgins (2004) has more recently demonstrated similar effects for eager versus vigilant strategic preferences on the generation and selection of alternatives during basic categorization processes. People were given vague descriptions of a target person from which it was not clear how to categorize him or her correctly, and a number of alternatives could all have been possible. As before, participants with either a chronic or experimentally induced promotion focus generated more possible categories for the target than those with either a chronic or experimentally induced prevention focus.

Overall, then, people's eager versus vigilant strategic preferences play a significant role in their generation of alternatives during a number of important thought processes. Moreover, it is important to note that in all the studies described in this section, everyone was pursuing the exact same outcome (identifying an object, explaining behaviors) and did not have motivations for any specific conclusion or end-state. Furthermore, measures of people's motivations for more general outcomes such as accuracy and closure were also taken, and these factors were statistically removed from all analyses. Therefore, the observed effects of promotion or prevention motivational orientations are distinct from the outcome motivation effects reviewed earlier and can be attributed to the influences of these orientations on people's strategic preferences.

effects on counterfactual thinking

Besides generating and evaluating hypotheses, another way in which people consider alternatives during reasoning is in their use of counterfactuals. As briefly mentioned, earlier counterfactual thinking involves mentally undoing the present state of affairs and imagining alternative realities "if only" different decisions had been made or actions been taken (Roese, 1997). Several different varieties of counterfactual thinking have been identified. One broad distinction that has been made is between thoughts that concern the reversal of a previous inaction (e.g., if only I had acted, things might have gone better), or additive counterfactuals, and thoughts that concern the reversal of a previous action (e.g., if only I hadn't acted, things wouldn't be so bad), or subtractive counterfactuals.

Because additive counterfactuals simulate the correction of a past error of omission, this type of thinking represents a more eager strategy of considering alternative realities. In contrast, because subtractive coun-terfactuals simulate the correction of a past error of commission, this type of thinking represents a more vigilant strategy of considering alternate realities. Therefore, a promotion focus should increase the generation of additive counterfactuals, and a prevention focus should increase the generation of subtractive counterfactuals. In line with this, Roese, Hur, and Pennington (1999) found that, both when analyzing hypothetical examples and when describing particular instances of their own behavior, participants who considered promotion-related setbacks (i.e., nongains and missed opportunities for advancement) offered a greater number of additive counterfactuals, whereas participants who considered prevention-related setbacks (i.e., losses and missed opportunities to prevent mistakes) offered a greater number of subtractive counterfactuals. In the literature that exists on counterfactual thinking, it has been traditionally assumed that subtractive counterfactuals are more common than additive counterfactuals and that failures associated with action inspire more regret than failures associated with inaction (Roese, 1997). However, the results of these studies demonstrate that, in some cases, people's strategic preferences can result in additive counterfactuals being more common and perhaps being associated with greater regret (see also Camacho, Higgins, & Lugar, 2003 ).

It is important to note that care was taken to make sure the outcomes that participants were considering in these studies did not differ across any important dimensions such as how painful they were imagined to be or how much regret they inspired (see Roese et al., 1999). Therefore, the results can again only be explained in terms of differences in strategic motivation.

effects on fast versus accurate information processing

A major focus across many areas of psychology has been when and why people choose to emphasize either speed or accuracy in their thinking and decision making (e.g., Josephs & Hahn, 1995; Zelaznik, Mone, McCabe, & Thaman, 1988). Forster, Higgins, and Bianco (2003) more recently investigated whether promotion preferences for strategic eagerness would result in faster information processing and a higher quantity of output in a search for possible hits, whereas prevention preferences for strategic vigilance would result in more accurate information processing and a higher quality of output in an effort to avoid mistakes.

Participants were given a task involving four pictures taken from a children's "connect the dots" drawing book. For each picture, the objective was to connect sequentially numbered dots within a given time period in order to complete the outline of an image. Participants' speed on each picture was assessed by the highest number dot they reached by the end of the time period for that picture, and their accuracy on each picture was assessed by the number of dots they skipped (i.e., that were not connected). Across two studies where participants' promotion or prevention focus was both measured and experimentally induced, promotion-focused individuals were faster and produced a higher quantity of responses, whereas prevention-focused individuals were more accurate and produced a higher quality of responses over the entire task. Moreover, both of these tendencies increased in intensity as people moved closer to goal completion, resulting in stronger effects of strategic preferences toward the end of a task than toward the beginning of a task (i.e., the "goal looms larger" effect in which motivation increases as one's distance to the completion of a goal decreases; Lewin, 1935). This provides strong support that people's motivations for different judgment strategies can alter their concerns with different aspects of information processing (e.g., speed versus accuracy).

effects on knowledge activation and recall

Analogous to the selective recall and activation of information from memory that occurs in the presence of motivations for directional outcomes, another influence of strategic preferences on thinking is to increase sensitivities to, and recall of, information that that is particularly relevant to these preferences. A study by Higgins, Roney, Crowe, and Hymes (1 994) demonstrated this by having participants read an essay about the life of a hypothetical target person in which two different types of situations were encountered. In one type of situation, the target used eager strategies that were advancement oriented (e.g., waking up early in order to be on time for a favorite class), whereas in the other type of situation, the target used vigilant strategies that were more protection oriented (e.g., being careful not to sign up for a class whose schedule conflicted with a desired activity). Individuals who had chronic promotion orientations showed a stronger sensitivity for information related to advancement versus protection strategies and later showed greater recall for these episodes, whereas individuals who had chronic prevention orientations showed the reverse effect.

Another study by Higgins and Tykocin-ski (1992), which again had people read an essay about the life of a hypothetical target person, extends these findings. In this study, the target person experienced situations that either involved the presence or absence of gains (finding $20 on the street or missing a movie that he or she wanted to see, respectively) or the presence or absence of losses (being stuck in a crowded subway for an extended period of time or getting a day off from a particularly arduous class schedule, respectively). Similar to the previous study, individuals who were chronically promotion focused showed a stronger sensitivity and recall for gain-related informa tion that is more meaningful in the context of eager strategic preferences, whereas individuals who were chronically prevention-focused showed a stronger sensitivity and recall for loss-related information that is more meaningful in the context of vigilant strategic preferences.

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