Sunday, October 9, 2011

Worldview and Epistemic Motives

Golec and Van Bergh (2007) present evidence that the Need for Closure moderates political conservatism but that the relationship is mediated by adherence to a traditional or modern personal worldview. The authors argue that both types of worldview can satisfy needs for closure by presenting values “as absolute rather than relative . . . [and assuming] a definite rather than approximate nature of truth” (Golec & Van Bergh, 2007, p. 587). The traditional worldview, in this schema, “is based on a belief in a single, unshakeable truth of a transcendental, nonhuman character, not susceptible to rational verification or evaluation” (Golec & Van Bergh, 2007, p. 590).

While one might quibble with their emphasis on a single “nonhuman character,” given the preponderance of polytheist. Agnostic, or atheist belief systems that assert absolute values and absolute truth “not susceptible to rational verification,” their distinction remains useful. They are able to delineate a “traditional” from a modern” worldview,” where truth is absolute but “verifiable and legitimized by rational, scientific means” (Golec & Van Bergh, 2007, p. 590), and from a “postmodern” worldview where “‘Truths’ are perceived as fragmentary and partial (p. 591).

In their study, Polish participants who adhered to a traditional worldview when experiencing a need for closure tended to be more conservative—as measured by questions used in a Polish public opinion pole, questions which the authors claim are highly reliable.  Those who adhered to a modern worldview tended to be less conservative. Golec and Van Bergh (2007) argue that the need for closure could lead to a preference for traditional and modern worldviews over postmodern ones. The Worldview Model argues that both traditional and modern worldviews could moderate need for closure.

Before the discussion continues, it should be noted that one need not claim that traditionalists are necessarily conservative in the modern political sense. Golec and Van Bergh’s Polish traditionalist participants were conservative, but some traditionalists may be radical in their social goals, seeking to establish a society based on values that include tolerance of religious differences and intolerance of inequality.  Even when this is the case, however, the Worldview Model suggests that a traditional worldview should increase the need for closure. 

Traditional worldviews could motivate a need for cognitive closure by suggesting that uncertainty is unreasonable, surprising, and must be quickly resolved, at least with regard to transcendental truths and social values. The traditional worldview provides many heuristics by which such closure could be achieved, including a simple surrendering of judgment to an authority with esoteric knowledge of transcendental truths. However, the Worldview Model predicts that traditional worldview would, under certain circumstances, provide more complex arguments that could lead to a resolution of uncertainty.

Some circumstances demand that closure be achieved through elaboration—the careful consideration of information in order to achieve stable understanding (Petty, Cacioppo, Strathman, & Priester, 2004). Elaboration occurs when people are able to grapple with new information and are motivated to do so. One source of motivation is ambivalence, explicit or implicit (Johnson, Petty, & Brinol 2011). Explicit ambivalence refers to a conflict between consciously held beliefs and implicit ambivalence refers to a conflict between automatic evaluations and consciously held beliefs. Implicit ambivalence can occur, for example, when an individual has many, automatic, prejudiced attitudes but explicitly endorses non-prejudiced ones. Despite the traditional worldview’s emphases on resolution and a transcendental order, implicit ambivalence may occur, for example, when implicit death anxiety (Jost et al., 2003a) conflicts with an explicit belief that death is merely an end to earthly life and a transition to eternal paradise. Implicit ambivalence could also occur when explicit sympathy for the victim of a crime conflicts with implicit needs to believe in a stable, moral universe (Furnham, 2003).

The last two examples of conflict could take the form of implicit ambivalence but they could also take the form of explicit ambivalence. In either case, they should motivate elaboration. Traditional worldviews may offer a transcendental truth, but the very fact of that truth can be in conflict with individual or even community experience. Disease, natural disasters, invasions by other cultural groups, and disagreements within the community, all may prove inherently threatening to the idea of a natural, ontologically-based, order.

In these cases, although closure needs are high (and need to avoid closure are very low), the task demands are such that integrative complexity should result. Integrative complexity can result from conflict between two equally strong values (Tetlock, 1986).  While liberals, in general, demonstrate greater integrative complexity than conservatives, they may show less integrative complexity on certain issues, such as gay marriage, where little value conflict is perceived (Critcher, Huber, Ho, & Koleva, 2009; Jost et al. 2003b; Joseph, Graham, & Haidt, 2009).

Integrative complexity could result from those situations in which traditionalists who are high in need for closure cannot find closure by relying on the first relevant set of values that comes to mind—for example when an automatic attitude conflicts with the traditional worldview. Depending on the strength of the need for closure, however, traditionalists may employ various strategies for avoiding having to produce complex responses—including categorizing issues in terms of single value dimensions whenever possible and automatically shifting their stated values in response to situational influences in a way that quickly resolves feelings of conflict and uncertainty (Critcher et al. 2009).

The extent to which these strategies would be effective would vary with the situation. Of the previously considered scenarios that could encourage elaboration and integrative complexity, conflict within the community may be both the most common and the most likely to produce a response higher in integrative complexity. People who are high in need for closure tend to seek conformity and adhere to cultural norms, but only when they are uncertain, as Fu, Morris, Lee, and Hong demonstrated with American and Chinese participants (2007). Otherwise, they tend to fall back on preexisting beliefs, especially beliefs made more accessible through priming (Fu et al., 2007, Kruglanski, Webster, & Klem, 1993).

Where community conflicts are generated by fundamental disagreement, resolving resultant conflicts would require either the repression of dissent or novel thinking. Agreeing to disagree would not be an option for traditionalists who are members of the same community, although communities might divide into different sects. Once conflicts are resolved, however, the new perspective should become standard and used to resolve or avoid future conflicts.  This perspective may even the basis of the next generation of closure-granting automatic-associations and heuristics.
Last, it is possible that traditionalists could conflict in practice but not in philosophy.

While some worldviews may suggest that there is only one right way of doing anything, others may allow for variation as long as it does not challenge a fundamental order. Traditionalists, then, should vary depending on their culture in the extent to which their absolute truth moderates a nonspecific need for closure—leading to a general resistance to change and uncertainty—and the extent to which it only moderates a specific needs for closure on what the absolute truth is and what absolute values should be held. The latter traditionalists may have the same level of integrative complexity as modernists when it comes to justifying their particular actions.  The Worldview Model would predict revolutionary traditionalists, traditionalists who seek to change the social order, to come from cultures that tolerate political uncertainty while being intolerant, for example, of religious uncertainty.

Interestingly, when high in need for closure, Critcher et al’s (2009) conservative participants were more likely to change their self-reported attitudes towards abortion in response to an issue-relevant explicit prime—writing an essay either on the value of life or the value of choice. Self-reported liberal participants were less responsive to priming when high in need for closure. This suggests that worldview differences between liberals and conservatives influence how individuals respond to need for closure. One source of these differences could be variation between the traditional and modern worldviews, if we assume that liberalism and modernism and traditionalism and conservatism are both correlated in this sample. 

Relative to the modern worldview the traditional worldview tolerates more mystery. Truths are transcendental and an individual does not expect to have specific answers to all of life’s perplexities. In the modernist’s world, each individual expects to be able to achieve closure only after an examination of the evidence—a process that could be cognitively intensive. While closure is desired, it is not, necessarily, expected. Where it is demanded, the modernist must study her environment, elaborating information until stable understanding can be reached. Alternatively, the modernist might rely on experts—individuals who share the same goals but are better able to achieve them. In that case, however, she must still take responsibility for choosing her experts wisely. The liberal participants in Critcher et al.’s (2009) study were just as high in need for closure but were less susceptible to automatic, primed evaluations, perhaps because they habitually regulate against resolving uncertainty based on a gut instinct.

An alternate explanation could be that these liberal participants held on to previously established beliefs in the face of new evidence because those beliefs were the result of a more elaborative process and, perhaps, were higher in integrative complexity. Not only is the modern world inherently more uncertain, with that uncertainty being an obstacle rather than a necessity, it is also amoral. Moral judgments are supposed to be the products of deliberate reasoning and not, at least in Critcher et al.’s (2009) American sample, based on gut-instinct.. 

At the same time, the modernist’s behavior may not always conform to his ideal. For example, he may act on instincts, which he expects to be perfectible and thus potentially imperfect, when he is under cognitive load. Employing moral foundations theory, Joseph et al. discussed a study by Skitka, Mullen, Griffin, Hutchinson, and Chamberlin (2002), in which liberals were asked to decide whether to allocate funds to subsidize the medical treatment of AIDS patients who were believed to be responsible for their illness. Skitka et al (2002) found that liberals tended to deny funding when under cognitive load.

Cognitive load should, as discussed previously, contribute to closure needs (Kruglanski, 2004, p. 74). In this case, Skitka et al. (2009) argue that their participants were more likely to demonstrate the fundamental attribution error when under cognitive load. Western participants have been shown to make more individual-based attributions (and Eastern participants more situation-based attributions) when experiencing an elevated need for closure (Kruglanski, 2004, p. 73). Haidt et al. (2009) argue that liberals who were not under cognitive load sought a resolution between implicit concerns for purity and explicit concerns for harm, elaborating in the face of implicit ambivalence. Under cognitive load, automatic concerns for purity dominated may have decision-making.

In this case, a modernist participant may act similarly to a traditionalist participant, but with different justifications.  The traditionalist may be more motivated to incorporate automatic reactions into her worldview and not to see conflict between automatic and deliberate judgments than the modernist, but the modernist may also decide to rationalize his judgments in order to think of himself as a rational person. The traditionalist may, alternatively, reject her judgment, considering it to be morally flawed. The modernist may reject his judgment, considering it to be irrational.

The Worldview Model cannot predict the exact conditions under which a modernist participant would reject her automatic evaluation and a traditionalist participant accept his automatic evaluation are unknown. The modernist’s realization that she is automatically stereotyping, for example, can trigger self-regulatory effort if she does not explicitly endorse these stereotypes (Richeson & Trawalter, 2005). Over time, automatic activation of stereotyping can be inhibited by the automatic activation of competing goals (Moskowitz & Li, 2011) and her automatic attitudes can grow closer to her explicitly endorsed ones. She can, in other words, reject her automatic reaction and seek to become more “perfect.” Under high need for closure, she may be more likely to stereotype (Kruglanski, 2004, p. 83). However, this failure to adhere to explicit norms may later motivate self-regulation.

Beyond stereotyping, modernists may also have to experience automatically-activated traditional beliefs, beliefs which are common in most societies for historical and, potentially, social cognitive reasons. Work by Kay and colleagues suggest that traditionalists and modernists will both deny randomness and assert control. His research, as well as that of Landau and colleagues (2010), suggests that in more modernist societies individuals may prefer to believe that the world is structured and non-random even if they do not have specific evidence for these beliefs.

Two strong sources of perceptions of order or randomness in the world are beliefs in supernatural forces and beliefs in the government. In one experiment, Kay, Shepherd, Blatz, Chua, and Galinsky (2010) looked at changes in perceptions of the stability of government in both Malaysian and Canadian participants and saw a subsequent increase in belief in a controlling God. Affirming government decreased belief in a controlling God among Canadian participants but did not affect whether participants reported that the concept of God helped them to find meaning in their own lives. Using a representative sample recruited online, Kay and colleagues then presented articles suggesting that cutting edge physics indicated that either science could explain all events or that there were some events that might be influenced by a supernatural force. Participants in the first condition showed relatively more support for the political system than participants in the second condition.

It would be more remarkable if belief in God was manipulated among those participants who were absolutely did not or absolutely did believe. However, many of the participants in Kay et al.’s study (2010) could probably draw on both more traditionalist and more modernist beliefs. Some participants may have endorsed modernist beliefs more strongly, but beliefs in God may have been both accessible and considered potentially viable. The modern worldview, after all, does not necessarily deny God, it only claims that the existence of God can be rationally evaluated. Many people may take tentative stances that are responsive to situational motivations, at least in the short-term.

A modernist who absolutely did not believe in God may have responded to the need to perceive nonrandomness and stability in his world by supporting the government. It should be noted that, in another study by Kay (Kay, Moskovitch, & Laurin, 2010), participants who were able to misattribute the arousal caused by being primed with reminders of randomness to an herbal supplement showed no significant change in their belief in supernatural sources of control. This is further evidence that the motive to perceive randomness must be interpreted by the individual before it affects worldview. Both a traditional and modern worldview may equally well satisfy the motivation to perceive non-randomness, depending on situational information of the sort that Kay and colleagues provided their participants. 

The relationship between the need for closure and Kay and colleagues other, potentially related, need to perceive non-randomness is not absolutely clear. However, it is possible that the motivation to perceive non-randomness constitutes a distinct source of the need for closure.  The need for closure scale, which is divided into five facets, each of which is defined as a potential source of need for closure, includes three facets that could relate to the motivation to perceive non-randomness—preference for order, preference for predictability, and discomfort with ambiguity (Kruglanski, Atash, DeGrada, Mannetti, Pierro, & Webster, 1997).

Under high need for closure that originates from cognitive load, participants who are motivated to perceive non-randomness may increase their belief in a controlling God or their belief in a strong government, whichever was more accessible. This interaction of needs could explain why some conservatives come to accept the status quo, even when that status quo includes beliefs with modernist origins (Jost et al., 2009). Conservatives who are relatively higher in nonspecific needs for closure may accept any belief that satisfies their need to perceive non-randomness.

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