Scholarly article on topic 'Need for Closure and Cognitive Inhibition of Unwanted or Irrelevant Information'

Need for Closure and Cognitive Inhibition of Unwanted or Irrelevant Information Academic research paper on "Psychology"

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Abstract of research paper on Psychology, author of scientific article — Ioana Todor

Abstract Need for closure is a construct that influences the way people perceive social world. Need for closure reflects a preference towards certainty and stability, clarity and firm rules, definitive answers to questions, and an aversion to ambiguity and lack of control. People with high scores at the need of closure dimension of personality are prone to adopt stereotypical judgments and less inclined to accept diversity. This construct also correlates with the tendency to follow rules, to perseverate in old beliefs and to accept routines. Cognitive inhibition is a mechanism that ensures the continuous updating of information in memory. The general aim of this paper was to investigate a possible relation between the need of closure and people's ability to inhibit unwanted information from memory, with a particular focus on stereotypical information. Cognitive inhibition has been investigated through the directed-forgetting paradigm and the need of closure dimension has been assessed with the Need of Closure Scale (NCS, Kruglanski et al., 2013). The results illustrate the difficulties to voluntary forget stereotypical information for all the participants included in the study group.

Academic research paper on topic "Need for Closure and Cognitive Inhibition of Unwanted or Irrelevant Information"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 141 (2014) 712 - 717

WCLTA 2013

Need For Closure And Cognitive Inhibition Of Unwanted Or

Irrelevant Information

Ioana Todor a *

a "1st December 1918 " University of Alba Iulia, 510009 Alba Iulia, Romania

Abstract

Need for closure is a construct that influences the way people perceive social world. Need for closure reflects a preference towards certainty and stability, clarity and firm rules, definitive answers to questions, and an aversion to ambiguity and lack of control. People with high scores at the need of closure dimension of personality are prone to adopt stereotypical judgments and less inclined to accept diversity. This construct also correlates with the tendency to follow rules, to perseverate in old beliefs and to accept routines. Cognitive inhibition is a mechanism that ensures the continuous updating of information in memory. The general aim of this paper was to investigate a possible relation between the need of closure and people's ability to inhibit unwanted information from memory, with a particular focus on stereotypical information. Cognitive inhibition has been investigated through the directed-forgetting paradigm and the need of closure dimension has been assessed with the Need of Closure Scale (NCS, Kruglanski et al., 2013). The results illustrate the difficulties to voluntary forget stereotypical information for all the participants included in the study group.

© 2014 The Authors. Published by ElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of WCLTA 2013. Keywords: Need for closure; cognitive inhibition; directed-forgetting;

1. Introduction

Stereotypes are socio-cognitive representations that give an illusion of order and predictability in the social world. They are organized sets of knowledge about a group or a social category. A large amount of studies demonstrate that, once constituted, they influence: information seeking and selection processes in attention, allocation of cognitive resources, organization, integration and mnesic availability of semantically related

* Corresponding author: Ioana Todor Tel.: +40 258806274; fax: +40 25806274. E-mail address: ioana.todor@uab.ro

1877-0428 © 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of WCLTA 2013. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.05.125

information, social judgments, attitudes and social behavior (Fiske, 1998; Bodenhausen, 1988; Cameron & Trope, 2004).

In a long tradition in social psychology, stereotypical thinking has been considered a habitual and almost unavoidable phenomenon of every-day social life (Allport, 1954; a review in Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2001). A large amount of research illustrates how easily stereotypes can be activated in the presence of a triggering stimulus (e. g. a member of a stereotyped group or a typical behavior) and then they are almost automatically applied in person perception, social evaluation and interpersonal behavior (Devine, 1989; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990). This view is particularly applicable to the stereotypes frequently encountered and used in our cultural environment (such as those pertaining to gender and race), which become the object of a cultural conditioning process. Being inevitably exposed to the cultural transmission of stereotypic information during a long history of socialization which begins in early childhood, people automatically associate in their minds social category membership with stereotypic characteristics (Devine, 1989). Under these conditions, the mere presence of a stereotyped group member or even the preconscious presentation of stereotypical material (e. g. related to gender, race or social occupations) is sufficient to prompt the cognitive activation of stereotypical concepts and to affect people's subsequent social evaluations (Devine, 1989; Macrae, Stangor, & Milne, 1994).

At the same time, many studies on mental control show how difficult, and in most cases inefficient, are the efforts made by the social actors to suppress the mental activation of stereotypic contents or at least to limit their influence on future judgments. According to experimental data, there are enough situations when people's attempts to suppress stereotypic thoughts lead to counter-intentional or ironic effects (Wegner, 1994; Wegner & Wenzlaff, 1996; Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Jetten, 1994; Macrae, Bodenhausen, & Milne, 1998). For example, in a famous experiment conducted by Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne and Jetten (1994), the authors found that even though participants were able to control the intrusion of stereotypic content for a brief period of time, they were not able to prevent its influence on their subsequent behavior. Concretely, participants who received a picture of a skinhead and were asked to describe a typical day of his life avoiding the stereotypic thoughts about this social category exhibited fewer stereotypical thoughts in their written descriptions compared with the controls (non-involved in thought suppression). However, when told that they were going to meet a skinhead, the participants in the suppression condition sat significantly further away from the seat presumptively occupied earlier by such an individual. Several years later, Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Wheeler (1996) and Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Ford (1997) showed in a series of experiments that stereotype suppression was an effortful and resource consuming process, and for this reason it was inefficient and led to counter-intentional errors under stress, under time pressure or when the cognitive resources were constrained.

This "orthodox wisdom" (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2001) on stereotypical thinking as being unavoidable has been continuously challenged in recent years. An important amount of data argues today for a "conditional automaticy" of categorical person perception (Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2001). Recent research shows that stereotype activation and stereotype application are not fully automatic processes, being mediated (conditioned) by a number of factors. A brief literature review reveals that: stereotype activation and application are constrained by the availability of cognitive resources people's actual interests and processing objectives; self-esteem (low self-esteem facilitates stereotype activation and application), motivation to respond without prejudice (internal motivation to respond without prejudice reduces the probability of stereotype activation and application); egalitarian beliefs; social approval needs; adverse attitudes, social context and affective states (e.g. Fiske, 1998; Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2001; Devine, 2001).

In general, the various influences on stereotype activation and application were more thoroughly investigated by researchers, compared with the factors that potentially moderate people's abilities to control the influence of activated stereotypes in social judgments. Several studies have shown that stereotype suppression can be efficient given some particular conditions. According to available experimental data, people are able to suppress stereotypic information when: they use specific strategies of distraction and refocusing of attention, they use mental practice, they use a precise formulation of intentions, or when they are strongly motivated to avoid prejudice (e.g. Devine & Monteith, 1999; Wenzlaff & Bates, 2000). In addition, Araya, Akrami, Ekehammar, & Hedlund (2002) have shown that the impact of activated stereotypes on subsequent judgments is attenuated in the presence of contextual cues that prompt the social perceiver to exercise self-control.

Empirical evidence suggest that cognitive closure may enhance peoples' preference for firm rules and social order, thus, those people high in cognitive closure reject diversity, divergent opinions or ideas, and they are inclined toward stereotypes and prejudice. Several authors have shown that people with elevated need of closure are more

likely to adopt conservative values, to reject the behaviors that are not conform with the group norms, to exclude the group members with diverse attitudes, to demonstrate a strong bias toward they own group and to manifest hostile attitudes and prejudice toward the others (e. g. Van Hiel, Pandelaere & Duriez, 2004; Kruglanski, Pierro, Mannetti & De Grada, 2006). In a study published by Dijksterhuis et al. (1996) participants high in dispositional need for closure recalled relatively more stereotype-consistent information in an impression formation task, while subjects low in need for closure recalled more inconsistent information.

The directed forgetting paradigm has been commonly used for studying cognitive inhibition processes in various experimental settings (Golding & MacLeod, 1998). Directed forgetting studies show that, when they are instructed and motivated to suppress (forget) certain information, people are able to activate inhibitory mechanisms that may lead to the intended result. However, this is not the always the case if the to-be-forgotten information is stereotypic for example, Macrae Bodenhausen, Milne and Ford. (1997) and Araya (2003) have shown that intentional forgetting is inefficient for the stereotype-congruent words under cognitive load. When people have enough available cognitive resources, stereotype-congruent information can be voluntarily forgotten, but this effortful and resource consuming activity affects people's performance in remembering the other information that was also presented (to-be-remembered information).

Starting from the premise that stereotype suppression is moderated by a number of individual and contextual factors, the aim of this study is to investigate the potential influence of one of them - the need of closure - on the directed-forgetting of stereotypic and counter-stereotypic information. The investigated stereotypes are gender stereotypes (feminine vs. masculine).

2. The directed-forgetting study: stereotypes, need for closure and cognitive inhibition

The purpose of this experiment is to investigate the presence of a possible influence of cognitive closure on the people's abilities to voluntary inhibit stereotypical information. The experimental paradigm I used to study cognitive inhibition is directed forgetting, list procedure. The hypotheses are that the need of closure influences the people's abilities to voluntary inhibit stereotypical information in two ways: 1. Participants with low cognitive closure have increased abilities to voluntary inhibit stereotype-congruent information, illustrated by a significant directed-forgetting effect for this information. 2. Directed-forgetting effects are insignificant for stereotype-congruent and for stereotype-incongruent information for the participants scoring high on cognitive closure.

2.1. Method 2.1.1. Participants

227 students from various departments of the University of Alba Iulia, all men, with a mean age of 19.1 (range 18-34) were included in the experiment.

2.1.2. Design

The study had a 3 (Prime: men vs. woman vs. no prime) X 2 (Instruction: forget vs. remember) X 2 (Word type: stereotype-congruent vs. stereotype-incongruent) mixed design, with repeated measures on the last factor. The results were analyzed distinctly, for the participants with high need of closure scores and for those with low scores.

2.1.3. Material

Two sets (lists) of 15 words each were used. In the first list, 10 words corresponded to the gender category "man", and 5 words corresponded to the opposite gender category ("woman"). 5 words from each list were non-stereotypical (filter) words selected from the Rey Memory Test (Rey, 1964). The masculine and feminine attributes were selected in the following manner. First, I selected a list of 40 behavioral traits, 20 for women and 20 for men, the most frequently mentioned in literature (Balica, Fartu^nic, Horga, Jigau, & Voinea, 2004; Curic, 2004). In general, studies conducted in the U.S. and Europe associate masculinity with an instrumental dimension of

personality (men being described as more independent, assertive, determined, courageous, dominant) and femininity with an expressive-emotional dimension (women being described as more affectionate, caring, sensitive, loving, empathetic, gentle). I presented the initial list of 40 words to each participant, who was asked to rate the typicality of each attribute for the gender categories on a 10-point scale. More specifically, participants had two distinct tasks: to rate the typicality of traits for women, and then to rate the typicality of the same traits (presented in a new list) for men. The order of traits was different between lists and so was their grammatical gender, which was congruent with the gender category. I selected in each case 10 stereotypical (masculine) words and 10 counter-stereotypical (feminine) words, those with the highest differential scores (for example, if a trait like 'dominant' is rated with 9 for men and 5 for women, the differential score is (9/5)/9. For every participant, I tried to match the length of the words on the two lists.

2.1.4. Procedure

In order to evaluate their need of closure dimension, all participants initially completed a self-assessment scale: The Need of Closure Scale (NCS, Kruglanski et al., 2013). The scale consists of 47 statements, participants being asked to indicate the degree of their agreement with each statement on a 6-point Likert-type scale (1 means total disagreement and 6 total agreements). The total score is calculated by adding the scores of each statement, with the exception of 5 lie items and other 16 items which are reversely scored. The total scores are situated between -54 and +236, high values indicating a high need for closure.

The experiment was conducted in three stages: stereotype activation, learning phase and recall task.

Stereotype activation was made through category priming (a set of masculine, feminine or neutral images were presented). In the directed-forgetting task, all participants were asked to memorize the first list of 15 words. After the list was presented, half of participants from each prime condition were told to forget these words (with the explanation that the words had been given only for practice; in order to obtain additional motivation, the subjects were told they would have better results on the final memory test if they forgot these 'practice' words which could produce mnesic interference with those from the 'real' list). The remaining half of participants in the two prime conditions received no such instruction. The second list of 15 words was presented to all participants, who were instructed to remember the list of words. Finally, all participants were asked to recall the studied words, including those which some of them had been instructed to forget. Between the word presentation and the memory test, I included a 2-minute distracter task. The directed forgetting effect was calculated as the difference between the correctly recalled words from the two lists (the time limit for free recalling was 4 minutes).

2.2. Results

The results obtained in the directed forgetting task by the participants with low need of closure (N = 121, scores less than 130 at the NC Scale) were compared with the results obtained by the participants with high need of closure (N = 106, scores higher than 160).

In the case of participants with low need for closure scores (< 130), ANOVA calculation indicate a significant effect of the main independent variable instruction (forget vs. remember): F(1, 115) = 5.40, p = 0.022 on the dependent variable represented by the number of correctly recalled words from the two lists (the filter-words were excluded). In the case of participants with low need for closure scores (< 160), ANOVA indicate a significant effect of the main variable instruction (forget vs. remember): F(1, 100) = 7.25, p = 0.008 and a significant effect of the main variable prime (men vs. woman vs. no prime): F(2, 100) = 4.07, p = 0.02.

For an in-depth analysis of these interactions I performed a closer examination of the significance of the directed forgetting effects, in the case of each of the two contrast groups (with low need for closure scores and with high scores respectively), for each primed gender category (masculine, feminine or no prime) and for each category of words (stereotype-congruent and stereotype-incongruent) (Table 1).

In the case of the participants with low need for closure scores, when the masculine stereotype was primed, the one-way ANOVA indicate an insignificant effect of the directed-forgetting instruction on the participants' performances in remembering the words from the list 1 (words that, in this experimental condition, are stereotype-congruent): F(1, 36) = 1.35, p = 0.25. When the feminine stereotype was primed, the results are similar, the effect of the directed-forgetting instruction on the participants' performances in remembering the words from the list 1

(words that, this time, are stereotype-incongruent) being also insignificant: F(1, 38) = 0.27, p = 0.6. Thus, in the particular case of the people scoring low on the need for closure dimension, directed-forgetting seems to be inefficient for the stereotypical information as well as for the counter-stereotypical. In the no-prime control condition, the directed-forgetting effect is significant: the participants instructed to remember both lists recalled a higher number of words from the first list, as compared with the participants instructed to forget them: t(41) = 3.05, p = 0.014.

Table 1. The mean values of correctly recalled to-be-forgotten (list 1) and to-be-remembered words (list 2) by their stereotypical connotation (stereotype-congruent vs. stereotype-incongruent)

Directed-forgetting task list procedure List 1 Words related to the masculine stereotype List 2 Words related to the feminine stereotype

Prime: masculine stereotype Directed-forgetting instruction present 2.66 (1.18) * 3.23 (1.78) ** 4.11 (1.18) * 3.58 (1.46) **

Directed-forgetting instruction absent (simple memorisation task) 3.25 (1.80) * 4.16 (1.68) ** 3.60 (1.69) * 3.58 (1.46) **

Prime: feminine stereotype Directed-forgetting instruction present 3.10 (1.62) * 3.27 (1.60) ** 4.05 (2.24) * 4.11 (1.36) **

Directed-forgetting instruction absent (simple memorisation task) 3.38 (1.71) * 3.44 (1.14) ** 3.90 (1.09) * 3.55 (1.33) **

No-prime Directed-forgetting instruction present 2.19 (1.32) * 2.17 (1.06) ** 4.23 (1.60) * 4.76 (1.78) **

Directed-forgetting instruction absent (simple memorisation task) 3.59 (1.65) * 3.22 (1.51) ** 4.04 (1.17) * 3.66 (1.20) **

* low need for closure ** high need for closure

In the case of the participants with high need for closure scores, when the masculine stereotype was primed, the one-way ANOVA indicate an insignificant effect of the directed-forgetting instruction on the participants' performances in remembering the words from the list 1 (stereotype-congruent): F(1, 33) = 1.23, p = 0.12. When the feminine stereotype was primed, the effect of the directed-forgetting instruction on the participants' performances in remembering the words from the list 1 (stereotype-incongruent) is also insignificant: F(1, 34) = 0.35, p = 0.72. Thus, in the case of the people scoring low on the need for closure dimension, directed-forgetting seems to be inefficient for the stereotypical information as well as for the counter-stereotypical. In the no-prime control condition, the directed-forgetting effect is significant: the participants instructed to remember both lists recalled a higher number of words from the first list, as compared with the participants instructed to forget them: t(33) = 2.34, p = 0.025. The forgetting performance of the words from the first list is associated with the benefit of a better recall of the words from the second one: t(33) = 1.91, p = 0.064.

2.3. Conclusions

A large amount of research indicates the occurrence of significant directed forgetting effects of semantically unrelated and emotionally neutral words in the general population (Golding & MacLeod, 1998). These results show that memory control is difficult for stereotype-congruent as well as for stereotype-incongruent information. The initial hypotheses regarding a mediating influence of the need for closure on the cognitive inhibition abilities for the stereotypical information were not confirmed by the present data. References

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