Effects of Similarity on the Persistence of Comparative Behavioral Mindsets

The Effects of Similarity on the Persistence of Comparative Behavioral Mindsets poster

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Audio Transcript

Research Authorship:

Morning Baker & John Kulpa, PhD.

Faculty Mentor:

Dr. John Kulpa | College of Arts and Sciences | Department of Psychology


The cognitive spill-over effect is an area of psychological study evaluating the relationship between knowledge accessibility, memory, and behavior, thus having implications for understanding the mental processes used and actions chosen in pursuit of a goal. Behavioral mindsets are cognitive procedures activated in the pursuit of a goal which may be used for subsequent, seemingly unrelated tasks. When applying a situation-specific procedure to a situation-specific goal, that general procedure will be more accessible within memory, and thus there is a greater likelihood of that procedure being used for following tasks so long as they are applicable. Two tasks may be markedly different on the surface, such as indicating preferences between animal pairs and choosing whether to date potential partners, but these are actually similar at the basic, abstract level of making comparisons. If indicating preferences in one task increases the likelihood of choosing in a task occurring immediately after, how long will it take between tasks for this effect to no longer occur? Comparative mindsets may be more strongly activated when choosing between similar objects than dissimilar objects because more time is required to compare overlapping features. If true, indicating preferences between pairs of similar animals should more strongly effect the choice of whether to date potential partners than indicating preferences for more dissimilar animals.

My project aims to add a further understanding of the cognitive spill-over effect to the current literature, specifically regarding the spilling over of a comparative behavioral mindset.  While in the pursuit of a goal, cognitive procedures are activated and can be used in subsequent tasks as long as they are applicable.  Therefore, knowledge accessibility and memory are involved in choosing procedures for completing a goal or task.  Xu and Wyer (2008, 2012) have identified a particular comparative mindset, one where individuals choose between two alternatives, and this is called a which-to-choose mindset.  In a series of experiments conducted in 2008, Xu and Wyer found that participants were more likely to choose between two described dating partners if they had previously compared animals on particular attributes or indicated preferences between them.  If participants did neither of these animal-related tasks, they were more likely to choose neither partner.  They also found that making similarity judgments for object pairs produced a similar effect on choosing a dating partner, or not.  These findings beg two questions.  First, if this primed comparative mindset increases the likelihood of choosing in a task immediately following, how long before this effect does not occur?  Second, is it possible that indicating preferences between more similar objects more strongly activates a comparative mindset than comparing more dissimilar objects?  The proposed study addresses both of these questions by including a filler task that will limit the continuance of the activated mindset, and incorporating conditions for preference decisions based on established similarity ratings of animal pairings.  We expect our findings to be similar to those of Xu and Wyer (2008, 2012), but also to build upon their conceptualization.  Please read through the Method and Expected Results sections for more specific information on the nature of our study.  Thank you.