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Need for cognition and the primacy effect: Does increased thought lead to biased judgment?

Megan E Potter, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study examined the effect of Need for Cognition (NFC), an individual difference in the tendency to engage in and enjoy thinking, and thought opportunity on the primacy effect, an information processing bias that occurs when early information unduly influences judgment, relative to later information. The general hypothesis was that the influence of NFC on the incidence of the primacy effect depends on whether or not thought-induced attitude polarization occurs in response to the first set of information. Polarized attitudes were thought to serve as anchors that would interfere with the ability to account for recent information and would lead to an inappropriate reliance on early information. ^ Participants were 180 undergraduate students. The task included providing impressions of two hypothetical job candidates, each of which was described by a set of positive and a set of negative information. The design was a 2 x (2) x 3 factorial with NFC (low/high), candidate information order (favorable-unfavorable/unfavorable-favorable), and thought opportunity (no thought opportunity, noninstructed thought opportunity, and instructed thought opportunity) as the independent variables. Information order effects were measured as the difference between the impression in the favorable-unfavorable condition and the impression in the unfavorable-favorable condition. A thought-listing technique was used to collect cognitive responses, which were coded to measure attitude polarization. ^ Results for the noninstructed thought condition revealed limited evidence of higher primacy and attitude polarization among high NFC participants. Exploratory analyses in the no-thought-opportunity condition revealed a tentative finding that high NFC people were more likely to interpret ambiguous behaviors as consistent with the position advocated by the first set of information. Additionally, people who were low in NFC were more likely to agree with performance-unrelated behaviors in the first set of information than people who were high in NFC. Despite results that were largely unsupportive of predictions, the methodology and measures presented offer insight for future efforts to address the unanswered questions of when and how information order effects occur. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Industrial

Recommended Citation

Potter, Megan E, "Need for cognition and the primacy effect: Does increased thought lead to biased judgment?" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3074096.