Wishful Thinking, Fast and Slow
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CitationCahill, Donal Patrick. 2015. Wishful Thinking, Fast and Slow. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractPsychologists have documented a panoply of beliefs that are sufficiently skewed towards desirability to arouse our suspicion that people believe things in part because they want them to be true (e.g. “above-average” effects (Alicke & Govorun, 2005; Baker & Emery, 1993; Beer & Hughes, 2010; Dunning, Meyerowitz, & Holzberg, 1989; Svenson, 1981; Williams & Gilovich, 2008), unrealistic optimism (Carver, Scheier, & Segerstrom, 2010; Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994; Sharot, Korn, & Dolan, 2011; Weinstein, 1980), and wishful thinking (Aue, Nusbaum, & Cacioppo, 2011; Babad, 1997; Krizan & Windschitl, 2009; Windschitl, Scherer, Smith, & Rose, 2013)). The ostensible irrationality of these motivated biases poses a deep psychological question: how are such biases generated and maintained by a cognitive system that is presumably designed to accurately track reality? Studies that look at the motivated biases and the biased belief updating that may give rise to them tend to employ rich meaningful stimuli covering different targets of belief that are of every day concern: from your health, intelligence, and attractiveness, to your perfidy, academic performance, marital prognosis and driving ability. The use of such stimuli makes it difficult to account for the prior experience and beliefs relevant to such stimuli that a participant brings to the study as well as inadvertently reinforcing a view that motivated biases emerge through rumination upon specific and relatively sophisticated belief content (Lieberman, Ochsner, Gilbert, & Schacter, 2001).
In this dissertation we changed this methodological emphasis. Over the course of the first three experiments, we demonstrate wishful thinking in a semantically sparse, repeated decision-making task about which participants can have no prior expectations, where the components of the task have no personal relevance beyond the experiment, and where they will be required to update their belief about the current state of affairs based upon a repeated and varying diet of desirable and undesirable evidence. We then situated this bias in the dual-process framework of judgment and decision-making by manipulating the time participants take to make their judgment in our task (Experiments 4a and 4b), by manipulating participants' cognitive load (Experiment 5), and by manipulating participants' thinking style—the weight participants put on the contribution from each type of processing—with an essay writing prime (Experiments 6a and 6b). On the whole, the results show that automatic processes alone are sufficient for wishful thinking. Though controlled, Type 2 processing inhibits the bias when induced to play a role, it does not typically contribute to the bias, either antagonistically or complementarily, absent such an inducement. Far from being an occasional, effortful rationalization that thrives on evidential complexity and uncertain costs, the wishful thinking bias we engendered is a simple, biased, belief updating process that operates automatically and beneath our awareness.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467495
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