Subjects' access to cognitive processes: Demand characteristics and verbal report

The present paper examines the arguments and data presented by Nisbett and Wilson relevant to their thesis that subjects do not have access to their own cognitive processes. It is concluded that their review of previous research is selective and incomplete and that the data they present in behalf of their thesis does not withstand a demand characteristics analysis. Furthermore, their use of observer-subject similarity as evidence of subjects' inability to access cognitive processes makes tests of their hypothesis confounded and, at the same time, reveals limitations in the application of the pre-inquiry quasi-control to research on social behavior. Problems with postexperiment questionnaires, such as the demand characteristics of the inquiry procedure are also considered. Although there are difficulties in assessing subjects' cognitive processes, many of these may be overcome through the application of novel techniques and research conducted on more traditional methods. In contrast to the view that subjects have limited access to cognitive processes and that their verbal reports are not valid, it is concluded that subjects' verbalizations are a rich source of psychological data which must be pursued if we are to tap their cognitive processes and are to gain an adequate understanding of human behavior
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-5914.1981.tb00021.x
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