Reliance on Accessibility Experiences in Judgment and Decision Making
The notion that judgment and decision making are based solely on content information has long governed theorizing across research domains, including the Humanities and Economics. Over the last three decades, however, research in Social Psychology has strongly called this apparent truism into question. Today, it is accepted without question that judgments are formed not only on the basis of content information, but also on the basis of experiential information, such as affective subjective experiences (e.g., being in a positive or negative mood state) or cognitive subjective experiences (e.g., experiencing ease or difficulty when recalling some piece of information from memory). Starting from this change in theorizing, the present research examines the question of when individuals are likely to rely on their cognitive subjective experiences in judgment and decision making. In particular, the present research investigates the situational circumstances under which reliance on cognitive subjective experiences in the form of accessibility experiences is especially likely. To answer these questions, a new, comprehensive theoretical model is proposed that delineates how cognitive subjective experiences are formed and integrated into judgmental processes. Based on this theoretical analysis, a set of five experiments is presented. These experiments cogently demonstrate that reliance on cognitive subjective experiences is particularly likely in conditions of low processing motivation and/or low processing capacity, that is, in conditions where processing intensity is limited. Given that such conditions are the rule rather than the exception in everyday life, reliance on cognitive subjective experiences rather than accessible content information may be more frequent than previously assumed. In fact, it appears that reliance on subjective experiences is not just an alternative judgmental mechanism, but may very well be the more frequent and valid one.