Predicting Information Use from Belief-Bases

2013-10-24T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Carlos R. Salas
Holding particular beliefs can yield various perceived consequences with a strong positive or negative valence. Such valence is presumed to reflect the subjectively experienced affect people have towards those consequences. Thus, perceived consequences of a belief should shape a person’s overall affective appraisal of the to-be-believed claim. Therefore, people who defer to affect rather than the relevant evidence as the basis of their belief should also be more likely to incorporate valenced consequences and less likely to incorporate belief-relevant evidence into their reasons for holding that belief. This study examined this possibility by employing a multiple documents paradigm. Participants were allowed to read a set of texts that varied in whether they provided evidence objectively relevant to the theory of evolution versus information about valenced social and emotional consequences of accepting evolution. Participants wrote an essay describing their degree of acceptance of the theory of evolution and their supporting reasons, and were encouraged to include subjectively relevant text information. Results supported the predicted relationships and the assumption that self-reported belief-bases reflect competing preferences for different types of belief-supporting information. Individuals differed in the relative focus they gave to theory-relevant and consequence-relevant arguments when relating this information to their belief. Such findings argue for the need to incorporate competitive evidence-versus-affect routes and individual differences into models of belief formation and maintenance. This has implications for learning during multiple documents inquiry tasks and the informal information searches people engage in on the internet, where unscientific, emotion-laden arguments on important scientific questions are often more pervasive than valid scientific information.