Hot cognition is a motivated reasoning phenomenon in which a person's responses (often driven by emotion) to stimuli are heightened. Cognitive and physiological arousal, in which a person is much more responsive to environmental factors might be associated with hot cognition regardless of the response's impact on learning. A learner who displays hot cognition is more likely to be highly attentive and interactive with information. Sometimes the learner will respond based on emotional response, without analyzing the response (cognitive thought). Hot cognition can make it difficult for a person to "calm down" and to process information in a rational manner. Thus, decisions influenced by hot cognition may be more if not entirely directed by emotion. The opposite of hot cognition is cold cognition, which is excessively critical and over-analyzing.
Hot cognition is a rapid and automatic response that causes bias and can lead to low-quality decision making. It frequently arises, with varying degrees of strength, in politics, religion, and other sociopolitical contexts because of moral issues. Three experiments by Milton Lodge and Charles S. Taber demonstrated the instantaneous triggering of positive or negative emotion and the relative slowness of response to differing ways of thinking.
An example of bias caused by hot cognition would be a juror disregarding evidence because of attraction to the defendant. Another example of hot cognition would be a person's noble decision to lay down their life to save others in a time of chaos, such as a gunman at a school. Cool cognition is the absence of hot cognition; in this case, dispassionate consideration of the evidence. Another would be taking the side of someone with shared political beliefs, in a situation not involving politics. In some instances, the emotional response is weak enough to be overpowered by reasoning. However, Lodge and Taber expect that "most citizens, but especially those . . . with strong political attitudes, will be biased information processors."
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- Morris, James P.; Squires, Nancy K.; Taber, Charles S.; Lodge, Milton (2003). "Activation of Political Attitudes: A Psychophysiological Examination of the Hot Cognition Hypothesis". Political Psychology 24 (4): 727–745. doi:10.1046/j.1467-9221.2003.00349.x. ISSN 0162-895X.
- Redlawsk, David P. (2008). "Hot Cognition or Cool Consideration? Testing the Effects of Motivated Reasoning on Political Decision Making". The Journal of Politics 64 (04). doi:10.1111/1468-2508.00161. ISSN 0022-3816.
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