Experimental Science of Human Motivations and Relations


In anxious circumstances, people sometimes become defensively closed minded in order to cope (see the Desire and Anxiety section for an explanation of the basic process). The closed-minded responses are rewarding because they can focus people on a singular personal goal or ideal to activate approach motivated states that relieve anxiety. They can contribute to social and personal problems down the road, however, because they bias judgment. The reality of alternative perspectives is obscured, which hamper wise and cooperative planning. If people can proactively activate these “defenses” ahead of time, by affirming their worth, value, idealistic, ingroup, or religious convictions, then they can ironically become more open-minded and capable of appreciating divergent perspectives afterwards. A now large body of “self-affirimation” research indicates that proactively focusing on personal values leaves one more able to make unbiased and open-minded assessments afterwards. For example, in a study in our lab we found that randomly assigning participants to think about meaningful groups that they belonged to made them MORE flexible and open to the perspective of outgroup members with dissenting opinions afterwards. We also found that reminding people of their highest ideals and values made them more aware and tolerant and less hostile toward others’ perspectives. We are currently trying to understand why this occurs. Our hypothesis is that group and value affirmations make people
more open-minded because they preemptively activate approach motivated states that then leave people free to notice anxiety-provoking stimuli with less distress or need for defensive reactions. 

*Note: to see in context of other research topics in our lab, click on the RESEARCH link at the top of this page.