Saturday, January 7, 2023

People are more strongly persuaded by self-generated arguments than by arguments of others, particularly if they find argument generation easy

Persuasive Benefits of Self-Generated Arguments: Moderation and Mechanism. Mengran Xu, Duane T. Wegener. Social Psychological and Personality Science, January 6, 2023.

Abstract: We aimed to derive a more systematic understanding of the persuasive advantages of self- versus other-generated arguments. Through three initial data collections (Ntotal = 492) and another two large preregistered studies (Ns = 528 and 496), we found that when people experienced a low level of difficulty (measured or manipulated) generating the arguments, self-generated arguments were more persuasive than other-generated arguments. However, when people experienced a high level of difficulty (measured or manipulated), the typical self-persuasion advantage was reduced significantly. Factor analyses identified perceptions of argument quality as a plausible and replicated mediator of the persuasive advantage of self-generated over other-generated arguments.

General Discussion

Through three initial data collections, a large preregistered replication measuring generation difficulty, and a preregistered study manipulating generation difficulty, we found that difficulty in generating the arguments reduced the self-persuasion advantage. To better understand reasons self-generated arguments might be more persuasive (when generation is easy), we examined an array of relevant perceptions of the arguments and of the process of generating (vs. receiving) them. Consistently across studies, when the difficulty of argument generation/reception was not particularly high, self-generated arguments were viewed as stronger, which then also uniquely predicted persuasion by those arguments. There was also some potential additional role for perceptions of knowledge fit.

Theoretical Implications

The current work offers several theoretical insights. First, it helps one better understand the long-standing effects of self-generated arguments. Researchers had observed that the self-persuasion advantage did not always happen, and some had speculated that difficulty in argument generation might play a role (e.g., Mann, 1967). Some prior work examined the meta-cognitive consequences of ease of generation (e.g., Müller et al., 2017Wänke et al., 1997) without directly comparing reactions to the same self-generated and other-generated arguments or examining the perceptions of the arguments potentially responsible for such effects. Identifying difficulty as a moderator is important, as it also speaks to reasons why cognitive role-playing might sometimes be less effective than emotional role-playing (Mann, 1967). Participants might have had an easier time generating arguments for topics used in emotional role-playing (e.g., quitting smoking) than for topics used in the research on cognitive role-playing (e.g., justifying the number of commercial movie theaters that will be in business 3 years from now).
Traditional research mostly offered speculations on why active argument generation is more effective than passive argument reception. The current work identified perceived argument quality as a primary factor contributing to self-persuasion, with knowledge fit possibly being a secondary contributor. By using a wide spectrum of argument quality, novelty, and liking measures closely tied to perceptions of the arguments, we conceptually replicated previous results and buttressed previous arguments that perceptions of overall argument quality were at least partly responsible for persuasive advantages of self-generated over other-generated arguments (cf. Greenwald & Albert, 1968), even when controlling for knowledge fit (cf. Baldwin et al., 2013).
It is worth noting that Baldwin et al. (2013) argued that argument convincingness came from the extent to which the arguments match the participants’ own concerns on the issue. In the current work, this sense of match versus mismatch might have been captured to some degree by the knowledge fit factor. When constraining our EFA models to two factors, knowledge fit did load with the perceptions of argument quality. However, when allowing for a three-factor solution, knowledge fit loaded separately, and it was the argument quality perceptions that served as the primary mechanism responsible for self-generation effects. However, it remains possible that our measures of knowledge fit reflected more of a cognitive fit (i.e., the way the person thinks about the issue) than in the Baldwin et al. (2013) research (i.e., addressing the person’s concerns on the issue). To the extent that the various perceptions of knowledge fit play a role, however, the current work suggests that their contributions might rely on their connections to perceptions of the overall argument quality.

Limitations and Future Directions

All studies showed the same difficulty by generation interaction pattern, but there was also a consistent pattern across all studies, such that participants with relatively negative attitudes at Time 1 (i.e., those who generated counter-attitudinal arguments) showed a more pronounced difficulty by generation interaction compared with those with relatively positive initial attitudes. However, favorability of initial attitudes did not moderate the difficulty by generation patterns on the mediators. This consistent pattern is not what one would predict based on Briñol et al. (2012). However, the attitudes in the current research were likely quite different from those in Briñol et al. (2012)Briñol et al. (2012) used a familiar topic (tuition increase/decrease) for which people likely had rather strong, well-formed attitudes. In contrast, the topic we chose for our studies was more in line with the classic self-persuasion literature—something quite novel for participants. When participants were initially unfavorable toward the disappearance of paper money, this might simply reflect that they had more room to be convinced otherwise (even with the same perceptions of the mediators). This might have allowed participants with less favorable attitudes to show the most pronounced two-way interaction between difficulty and generation conditions, whereas more well-formed attitudes might have reduced self-persuasion. It would be worthwhile for future work to explore the potential moderators of when generating arguments for a somewhat counter-attitudinal position results in more versus less impact of the generated arguments.
In addition, the current difficulty moderation might relate to research on mere thought effects. Although the traditional effect of mere thought was to polarize attitudes, moderation can occur when people are required to think longer and experience more difficulty in generating new supportive thoughts, creating less confidence in those thoughts and less persuasion by them (Clarkson et al., 2011; cf. Tormala et al., 2007). Because it seemed odd to consider generation difficulty as influencing confidence in thoughts toward other-generated arguments, we did not assess confidence in thoughts. However, future research could have participants generate cognitive responses to the arguments and assess confidence in those thoughts. This could raise a host of intriguing questions, such as whether thought confidence is necessary for the effects of perceived argument quality.

When Psychotherapy Fails (which happens regularly)

When Psychotherapy Fails. Brechje Dandachi-FitzGerald, Henry Otgaar & Harald Merckelbach. Chapter in Toward a Science of Clinical Psychology pp 301–319. January 1 2023.

Abstract: Psychotherapy aims to make patients better. As is true for any type of treatment, psychotherapy regularly fails to achieve this goal. Therapeutic failures may take many forms, and the list of possible reasons for failure is similarly extensive. As we will explain in this chapter, there is no conclusive definition of psychotherapeutic failure. Also, failures are sometimes inevitable and thus, cannot always be blamed on the therapist. This chapter is about failures, mistakes, adverse events, and disappointing outcomes during or after psychotherapy. Obviously, these are uncomfortable topics, as it is far more glorious to discuss treatment successes. Still, much can be done about psychotherapeutic failures, but remedies start with acknowledging that harmful therapy effects and therapeutic failures do exist and are important research subjects in their own right.

People who positively judge positive emotions experience better psychological health; those who negatively judge negative emotions experience worse psychological health

Willroth, Emily C., Gerald Young, Maya Tamir, and Iris Mauss. 2023. “Judging Emotions as Good or Bad: Individual Differences and Associations with Psychological Health.” PsyArXiv. January 6. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: People differ in their initial emotional responses to events, and we are beginning to understand these responses and their pervasive implications for psychological health. However, people also differ in how they think about and react to their initial emotions (i.e., emotion judgments). In turn, how people judge their emotions – as predominantly positive or negative – may have crucial implications for psychological health. Across five MTurk and undergraduate samples collected between 2017 and 2022 (total N=1,647), we investigated the nature of habitual emotion judgments (Aim 1) and their associations with psychological health (Aim 2). In Aim 1, we found four distinct habitual emotion judgments that differ according to the valence of the judgment (positive or negative) and the valence of the emotion being judged (positive or negative). Individual differences in habitual emotion judgments were moderately stable across time and were associated with, but not redundant with, conceptually related constructs (e.g., affect valuation, emotion preferences, stress mindsets, meta emotions) and broader traits (i.e., extraversion, neuroticism, trait emotions). In Aim 2, positive judgments of positive emotions were uniquely associated with better psychological health and negative judgments of negative emotions were uniquely associated with worse psychological health concurrently and prospectively, above and beyond the other types of emotion judgments, and above and beyond conceptually related constructs and broader traits. This research gives insight into how people judge their emotions, how these judgments relate to other emotion-related constructs, and their implications for psychological health.

Individuals’ beliefs that they can infer trust and trustworthiness from appearance are unfounded

Attributions of Trust and Trustworthiness. Rick K. Wilson & Catherine C. Eckel. Political Behavior, Jan 5 2023.

Abstract: This study examines whether individuals can accurately predict trust and trustworthiness in others based on their appearance. Using photos and decisions from previous experimental trust games, subjects were asked to view the photos and guess the levels of trust and trustworthiness of the individuals depicted. The results show that subjects had little ability to accurately guess the trust and trustworthiness behavior of others. There is significant heterogeneity in the accuracy of guesses, and errors in guesses are systematically related to the observable characteristics of the photos. Subjects’ guesses appear to be influenced by stereotypes based on the features seen in the photos, such as gender, skin color, or attractiveness. These findings suggest that individuals’ beliefs that they can infer trust and trustworthiness from appearance are unfounded, and that efforts to reduce the impact of stereotypes on inferred trustworthiness may improve the efficiency of trust-based interactions.