People constantly are aware of the thoughts, feelings, and motives that reside in their conscious minds. This awareness of internal thoughts, feelings, and motives comes from the experience of looking inwards, or "introspecting." Important advances in psychology have shown that information that comes to people via introspection can be quite misleading. The reason why this is the case is that people's judgments and actions sometimes are influenced by factors that operate outside of conscious awareness, and therefore are inaccessible via introspection. For example, people sometimes form opinions about things without being aware that they are doing so. Thus, it can be problematic when people place too much emphasis on their own introspections when seeking self-understanding. This can lead to an "introspection illusion" because it involves a false impression (or illusion) about the value of one's introspections. The research involved in this grant aims to advance the study of the introspection illusion as it underlies some of the most seminal problems at the interface of philosophy and social psychology (e.g., involving "free will," and attributions of responsibility).

In the first set of studies, the researcher proposes that individuals are likely to believe that they have free will because they find internally-available information (e.g., feelings of possibilities, intentions, choices) compelling, whereas when considering others, they do not have access to this information. Thus, individuals are likely to believe in determinism when considering the choices and behaviors of others. The second set of studies examines the actor-observer effect, in which people tend to explain their own behavior as reflecting situational influences and to explain others' behaviors as reflecting their internal stable dispositions. The researcher will examine a possible underlying cause of this classic effect as well as a potential re-framing of the precise nature of the effect. Specific studies will test the role of internal responses (e.g., feelings, intentions) to situational influences in producing this effect. Furthermore, to the studies will distinguish between situational causes that evoke a conscious response to the situation versus those that operate non-consciously. The third set of studies will look at a more real-world problem of correcting systematic judgmental bias.

Considered in its broader intellectual context, this research seeks to contribute to a longstanding tradition that has yielded some of the most intellectually and practically important findings to come from the field of psychology -- the tradition of examining differences in how people perceive themselves versus others. It seeks to do this in part by uniting that classic concern with recent findings concerning the role of unconscious processes in human judgment and action. In so doing, the proposed experiments seek to fundamentally advance our understanding of the processes involved in self and social perception. Understanding these processes is of crucial importance because of the role that they play in generating and exacerbating human misunderstanding and conflict. This research aims to improve society's ability to prevent and effectively overcome conflict by testing ways to mitigate people?s susceptibility to harmful biases, and also by paving the way for future work aimed at improving people's ability to perspective-take across the self-other divide.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Sally Dickerson
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Princeton University
United States
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