The age old saying People are what they do has long been ingrained in the psyche of every individual in every culture. It is even stated in the Bible, regarded by many as the book of truth, that every man should be seen in the light of his actions . In other words good people only do good deeds, while evil people only perform evil deeds. However, the world in which we live in is not that clear cut. As we all know a killer can also be a kind and loving father to his children as in the case of Nazi officers during World War Two. This mistake of judging a book by it s cover is referred to as the correspondence bias.
The correspondence bias refers to the tendency of individuals to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of dispositional factors in other peoples behaviour (Ross, 1977). Another term for the correspondence bias is fundamental attribution error. In other words individuals tend to underestimate the importance of situational factors and to overestimate the degree to which an action and its outcomes reflect on the actors disposition. The term fundamental comes about due to empirical findings that seemingly suggests that the tendency to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of dispositional factors in other peoples behaviour is both widespread and robust (Reeder, 1981)
The world in which we live in is such a large place with so much information, people categorise and generalise all manner of things in order to get a sense of mastery of their own environment. Thus it is no surprise that individuals categorise and generalise about other people. They do so in order to get a basic understanding of different people from different backgrounds, ethnicity and culture. This allows individuals to interact more effectively should they meet a person from a strange land. However categorisation and generalisation can, and usually lead to prejudice and discrimination (i.e. having the belief that all black people are criminals (Smith & Mackie 1995)). These beliefs prejudice and discrimination are often the result of the fundamental attribution error.
Categorisation and generalisation are automatic in most individuals, correction however is assumed to be a deliberate process that requires significant expenditure of cognitive resources (D Agostino & Fincher-Keifer, 1992). However most people are lazy and do not want to expend their limited cognitive resources. By using our cognitive resources to think carefully about things we are less likely to produce any fundamental attribution errors, and make better judgements about other people. However in a series of experiments conducted Gilbert (1989), it was found that under conditions of increasing cognitive load the magnitude of the correspondence bias would also increases. This means the harder we think, the more likely we will make an attribution error.
However if the conditions of the situations were to be made salient would the attribution error occur? Experiments done by Ajzen, Dalto & Blyth (1979) to test the fundamental attribution error found that when conditions where situations constraints were made salient, there was no tendency toward making dispositional attributions to the actors. So it would seem that if things were made more obvious individuals would not make mistakes.
D Agostino & Fincher-Keifer, (1992) studied the effects of the level of an individual s cognitive expenditure or level of how much and individual enjoys expending more cognitive effort (need for cognition) in relation to them making any attributional errors. Need for cognition refers to an individual s tendency to engage in and enjoy effortfull cognitive activity (Petty & Cacioppo, 1982). A scale was used to measure whether an individual was a high or low need for cognition individual. The participants were asked to answer questions on whether they enjoyed to expend more cognitive resources than normally required on any job. High need for cognition subjects expend more effort in the processing and integration of inconsistent information and are less prone to the primacy effect (D Agostino & Fincher-Keifer, 1992). They are more likely to carefully process and elaborate the arguments of persuasive messages and are less likely than low cognition subjects to rely on cognitive heuristics (rules of thumb) and other peripheral cues to asses the validity of these messages. As a result high need for cognition subjects are more responsive to argument quality (Petty & Cacioppo, 1982).
In an earlier study done by Jones and Harris (1967) subjects were asked to evaluate an author s attitude toward Fidel Castro after reading either a pro- or anti- Castro essay written by the authors. It was found that participants in this study attributed to the authors an attitude that corresponded to the content of the essay even when the essay was written under a no-choice conditions. This present experiment also tries to examine this phenomenon, only this time it is with regard to the level of need for cognition an individual usually possesses.
This experiment examines the possibility that information processing differences between high and low need for cognition individuals may influence the correspondence bias. The correction process requires more deliberate and effortful processing, and the fact that high need for cognition individuals are more likely to expend their cognitive resources that this process requires, hence only high need for cognition individuals would correct for situational constraints. It is therefore predicted that high need for cognition individuals are less prone to the correspondence bias than low need for cognition individuals.
Sixty-nine (69) subjects in total participated in this experiment from three different High Schools (A year 13 class from Hillmorton High School, year 12 class from Rangi Ruru High School and year 13 class from Hagley Community College) in Christchurch, New Zealand. The schools were selected due to their accessibility to the experimenters. Twelve participants failed the manipulation check (4 pro wrong, 5 anti wrong, 3 both wrong), as a result only 57 subject ratings were used in the study (17 male, 40 female). The age range of the participants were 15-44 years of age.
This study was a 2 (pro-essay Vs Anti-essay) x 2 (High-Low Need for cognition) within subject design. Only 57 subject ratings were analysed due to the fact that 12 subjects failed the manipulation check (4 pro wrong, 5 anti wrong, 3 both wrong) which showed that they did not understand the essay direction (i.e. they rated it as being pro- when it fact it was anti-). The essays used for this experiment were replicated form the Fletcher, Reeder and Bull study (1990). The need for cognition scale were partly replicated from the Petty & Cacioppo study (1982).
Experimental handout each 5 pages long (see appendix 1) was collated so direction of essay alternated (anti essay first then pro essay, and pro essay first then anti essay), and numbered, odd numbers being anti essays first, even numbers with pro essays first.
Page 1: Introduction sheet explaining who we were and what we wanted to do.
Page 2: First essay (i.e. pro essay first)
Page 3: Attitude attribution question for essay 1 (i.e. what you you think was the true or personal attitude of the student who wrote this essay?) and a manipulation check (i.e. Do you think in general that this essay was very supportive or very opposing of the legislation of homosexuality?). Both questions used a 7 point Likert Scale (1= strongly oppose, 7=strongly support)
Page 4: Second essay (i.e. anti essay second).
Page 5:Attitude attribution question for essay 2 and a manipulation check. Again both
using a 7 point Likert Scale as in page 3.
Need for Cognition Scale, which has 34 questions each of which uses a 1-7 scale (see appendix 2) based on the need for cognition scale used by Cacioppo and Petty (1982)
Each of the three classes, used as subjects, were addressed by two experimenters. The total of four experimenters had agreed to a standard operating procedure prior to each experiment with the three separate class groups in order to provide consistency in the experiment. The following was stated by the experimenters to the subjects. (as per the first page of the handout).
Hello, we are (appropriate names of experimenters). We would like to everyone to know that you are free to choose whether or not you wish to be participants in this study. If you wish you may leave or simply decline to accept the first handout. A short pause giving subjects time to exit if they wished. we are 3rd year Canterbury University students doing a study. We will answer any questions you may have at the completion of the study. Thank you for your participation .
There are two parts to this study. Part 1 involves reading and assessing two short essays. Part Two is a survey (students were not told until afterwards that the survey was actually a Need for cognition test). Read and follow all instructions carefully. Please read the first essay and answer the following two questions. When you have done this, please go on to the second essay, read and answer the next two questions. When you have completed part 1please raise your hand and your paper will be collected and exchanged for part 2. Please note that the writers of the essays were told by their teacher what their essay topic was. Essay writers were not given a choice in their topic. Please read and answer the questions at your own pace. Before you begin assessing the essays please write your age at the top of the first page. Thank you for your participation.
Subjects were told that the essays were written by university students wishing to gain a place on the university debating team and part of the application process required them to write a persuasive essay on the topic of legalisation of homosexuality. It was made explicitly clear to the participants of the experiment that the authors of the essays had no choice about which side of the issue they would defend. As a result, some authors were required to write an essay that did not reflect their true attitude on the issue.
The essays (part one) were handed out in an alternating fashion (i.e. one student receives the pro-essay first, while the person next to them receives the anti-essay first). The participants were instructed to read the essays then to rate what they believed to be the author s true attitude on the legalisation of homosexuality issue. They were also required to answer a manipulation check to see whether the participants understood that the essay was in such a direction (i.e. whether the participants understood that a pro-essay was pro and not anti). The pro and anti legalisation of homosexuality were the same as those used by Fletcher, Reeder and Bull (1990). Finally, once the participants had finished reading the two essays and answered the questions regarding them, the participants filled out the Need for Cognition Scale.
The only time constraint placed on the participants was that the experiment had to be completed within the period of class that they were in. Participants were also told that they could voluntarily state their age and gender.
Once the experiment was completed the experimenter debriefed the class. First the experimenters asked if anyone knew what kind of an experiment had just taken place, to which no one in the classes guessed. The true nature of the experiment regarding the Fundamental Attribution Error and the Need for Cognition Scale was then explained to the subjects. All subjects were thanked for their participation.
The overall results suggests that there is no relationship between level of need for cognition and the fundamental attribution error obtained. However when the need for cognition data was split into thirds, and the top third was compared with the bottom third a mean difference was clearly seen. Mean of Lower third = 131.16 and the mean for the Top third = 180.95. An analysis of variance was also performed and yielded the result of t (19) = 4.49, p