Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Need for Closure and Political Ideology

The Need for Closure Scale’s need for cognitive closure:
  • Has been extensively researched, in both political and non-political contexts (Kruglanski, 2004).
  • Is moderated by the environment (Kruglanski, 2004; Orehek, Fishman, Dechesne, Doosje, Kruglanski, Cole, Saddler, & Jackson, 2010).
  • Moderates politically-relevant beliefs and behaviors with this moderation being mediated by cultural context (Jost, Napier, Thorisdottir, Gosling, Palfair, and Ostafin, 2007; Orehek et al., 2010; Chirumbolo & Leone, 2007; Jost, Krochik, Gaucher, Hennes, 2009; Schoel, Bluemke, Mueller, & Stahliberg, 2011; Peterson, Smith, Tannebaum, & Shaw, 2009; Kossowska & van Hiel, 2003; Stalder, 2007; Ho-ying, Fu, Morris, Lee, Chao, Chiu, & Hong; 2007; De Zavala, Cislak, & Wesolowska, 2010)

The need for cognitive closure can fulfill these multiple roles because it is fundamental to task achievement, allowing the need for closure to permeate both individual and political life. 

Webster and Kruglanski’s Need for Closure scale measures two epistemic motives using a bipolar scale.  These motives are the need for cognitive closure and the need to avoid cognitive closure. The need to avoid cognitive closure can be described as a motivation to believe that that the world is ambiguous and complex. Ambiguity and complexity are desired because they provide further opportunities for thought and reflection. People who are high in a need to avoid closure may find certainty constraining or generally aversive and may prefer to stop thought processes before they reach any definite conclusions (Kruglanski, 2004, p. 6-13).

The need for closure, in contrast, is a need to live in a world that is unambiguous and more easily understood. People who are high in a need for cognitive closure typically attend to information that can easily be incorporated into existing schemas. They typically seek to confirm existing beliefs and may continue their analysis until they have supported these beliefs. Under the right conditions, then, a person who is high in need for cognitive closure may process more information than a person who is low in need for cognitive closure. However, conclusions will tend to be biased in favor of the status quo. Over time, people who are habitually motivated to seek cognitive closure may come to rely on more general, less individuated schemas to which more information can be easily assimilated.  Also, a person who is high in need for closure may sometimes reject weakly held attitudes more quickly if those attitudes hinder their sense-making process (Kruglanski, 2004, p. 14-20).
Both the need to avoid closure and the feeds for closure may occur as specific, goal-directed needs.

These needs, however, can be somewhat difficult to pinpoint. For example, if a self-identified liberal reads the 2006 Pew Research Center report “Are We Happy Yet?” and learns that Republicans tend to report being happier than Democrats, that person may experience a range of specific responses that represent motives at both ends of the Need for Closure scale. For example, she may wish to affirm the methodology employed by the researchers (a need for cognitive closure with regards to the methodology) but argue that reality is more complicated than data can capture (a need to avoid closure because of the aversive implications of the results). If another self-identified liberal was to read that study and wished to challenge the results, he might begin analyzing the report in search of methodological flaws. Because this search has a specific goal—a belief that the methodology is flawed and that the results can be rejected—this search would be in response to a specific need for closure.

These needs, then, can shift as information processing continues. The first liberal might later be dissatisfied with her avoidance of closure and instead want to be able to specifically challenge the results. The latter liberal may find his need for closure satisfied by the discovery that the researchers employed an outdated or less precise statistical measure but then later require even stronger evidence against the results. If the results turn out to be well-supported, he may wish to avoid closure on the issue the same way that the first liberal initially did, arguing that methodology is sound but the results fail to capture the big picture. Alternatively, he may become ambivalent, wishing to reject the results but, for the time being, being unable to do so. 

While specific needs may vary considerably over the course of a thought-process, nonspecific needs to avoid closure and nonspecific needs for closure may vary as well. These general epistemic styles do not target the ambiguity or lack of ambiguity in specific situations but represent the approach or avoidance of ambiguity in general. If a person is under cognitive load, for example, she may be high in a nonspecific need for closure, seeking to draw rapid conclusions and make quick decisions about her environment with little need to reach specific conclusions or decisions (Kruglanski, 2004, p. 74).

Some people may habitually experience a high need for nonspecific closure. For example, following a traumatic event, such as a terrorist attack, a medium-term elevation in need for closure may be correlated with other psychological changes, both more general and more topical, including “enhanc[ed] ingroup identification; interdependence with others; outgroup derogation; and support for tough and decisive counterterrorism policies and for leaders likely to carry out such policies” (Orehek et al., 2010). 

This last example, with its mix of more general and more specific psychological outcomes of an elevated need for closure, draws attention to the difficulty of distinguishing specific from non-specific closure needs. The best evidence of non-specific closure needs would be evidence for the need to avoid or approach closure across a variety of domains. For example, if a person experiencing an elevated need for closure due to trauma became less tolerant of disorganization in his home and became less tolerant of his boss’s confusing instructions one could infer that his need for closure was nonspecific. Even if all of the evidence for need for closure comes from a single domain, the need to understand a situation, regardless of whether that situation is understood to be attractive or aversive, would also be evidence for a nonspecific need for closure.

The needs (whether specific or nonspecific) to approach or avoid closure are correlated to a variety of measures of political orientation, including measures of cultural conservatism, economic conservatism, party loyalty, and attitudes towards specific policies (Jost et al. 2003a). Both specific and non-specific needs for closure may interact with cultural context (Fu et al., 2007) and with salient, task-relevant, primes (Golec et al., 2007). Culture, potentially, can moderate need for closure, although there is limited experimental evidence to date.

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