Inhibiting beliefs demands attention

Thinking and Reasoning 15 (3):250-267 (2011)
Research across a variety of domains has found that people fail to evaluate statistical information in an atheoretical manner. Rather, people tend to evaluate statistical information in light of their pre-existing beliefs and experiences. The locus of these biases continues to be hotly debated. In two experiments we evaluate the degree to which reasoning when relevant beliefs are readily accessible (i.e., when reasoning with Belief-Laden content) versus when relevant beliefs are not available (i.e., when reasoning with Non-Belief-Laden content) differentially demands attentional resources. In Experiment 1 we found that reasoning with scenarios that contained Belief-Laden content required fewer attentional resources than reasoning with scenarios that contained Non-Belief-Laden content, as evidenced by smaller costs on a secondary memory load task for the former than the latter. This trend was reversed in Experiment 2 when participants were instructed to ignore their beliefs when reasoning with Belief-Laden and Non-Belief-Laden scenarios. These findings provide evidence that beliefs automatically influence reasoning, and attempting to ignore them comes with an attentional cost
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