J. de Houwer
- Generalization versus contextualization in automatic evaluation
- Journal of Experimental Psychology. General
- Volume | Issue number
- 139 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Research has shown that automatic evaluations can be highly robust and difficult to change, highly malleable and easy to change, and highly context dependent. We tested a representational account of these disparate findings, which specifies the conditions under which automatic evaluations reflect (a) initially acquired information, (b) subsequently acquired, counterattitudinal information, or (c) a mixture of both. The account postulates that attention to contextual cues during the encoding of evaluative information determines whether this information is stored in a context-free representation or a contextualized representation. To the extent that attention to context cues is low during the encoding of initial information but is enhanced by exposure to expectancy-violating counterattitudinal information, initial experiences are stored in context-free representations, whereas counterattitudinal experiences are stored in contextualized representations. Hence, automatic evaluations tend to reflect the valence of counterattitudinal information only in the context in which this information was learned (occasion setting) and the valence of initial experiences in any other context (renewal effect). Four experiments confirmed these predictions, additionally showing that (a) the impact of initial experiences was reduced for automatic evaluations in novel contexts when context salience during the encoding of initial information was enhanced, (b) context effects were eliminated altogether when context salience during the encoding of counterattitudinal information was reduced, and (c) enhanced context salience during the encoding of counterattitudinal information produced context-dependent automatic evaluations even when there was no contingency between valence and contextual cues. Implications for automatic evaluation, learning theory, and interventions in applied settings are discussed.
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