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The term "motivated tacticians", a type of motivated reasoning, is used in social psychology to describe a human shifting from quick and dirty cognitively economical tactics to more thoughtful, thorough strategies when processing information depending on their type and degree of motivation. This idea has been used to explain why people use stereotyping, biases, and categorization in some situations and more analytical thinking in others.
After much research on categorization, and other cognitive shortcuts, psychologists began to describe human beings as cognitive misers; which explains that a need to conserve mental resources causes people to use short cuts to thinking about stimuli, instead of motivations and urges influencing the way humans think about their world. Stereotypes and heuristics were used as evidence of the economic nature of human thinking. In recent years, the work of Fiske and Neuberg (1990), Higgins and Molden (2003); Molden & Higgins, (2005) and others, has led to the recognition of the importance of motivational thinking. This is due to contemporary research studying the importance of motivation in cognitive processes, instead of concentrating on cognition versus motivation. Current research does not deny that people will be cognitively miserly in certain situations, but takes into account that thorough analytic thought does occur in other situations. Using this perspective, researchers have begun to describe human beings as motivated tacticians who are tactical about how much cognitive resources will be used depending on the individual's intent and motivation. Based on the complex nature of the world and the occasional need for quick thinking, it would be detrimental for someone to be methodical about everything they come into contact with; while other situations require more focus and attention. Considering human beings as motivated tacticians has become popular because it takes both situations into account. This concept also takes into account and continues to study what motivates people to use more or less mental resources when processing information about their world. Research has found that intended outcome, relevancy to the individual, culture, and affect all can influence the way a person processes information.
Goal oriented motivational thinking
The most prominent explanation of motivational thinking is that the person’s desired outcome motivates him to use more or less cognitive resources while processing a situation or thing. Researchers have divided preferred outcomes into two broad categories; directional and non-directional outcomes. The preferred outcome provides the motivation for the level of processing involved.
Individuals motivated by directional outcomes have the intention of accomplishing a specific goal. These goals can range from appearing smart, courageous, or likeable to affirming positive thoughts and feelings about something or someone they find likable or are close to. If someone is motivated by non-directional outcomes he/she wishes to make the most logical and clear decision. Whether a person is motivated by directional or non-directional outcomes depends on the situation and the person’s goals. Confirmation bias is an example of thought processing motivated by directional outcomes. The goal is to affirm previously held beliefs, so one will use less thorough thinking in order to reach that goal. While a person motivated to get the best education, who researches information on colleges and visit schools is motivated by a non-directional outcome. Evidence for outcome influenced motivation is illustrated by research on self-serving bias. According to Miller (1976),
"independent of expectancies from prior success or failure, the more personally important a success is in any given situation, the stronger is the tendency to claim responsibility for this success but to deny responsibility for failure". (Molden & Higgins, 2005).
Motivation based on strategy
Though outcome based motivation is the most prominent approach to motivated thinking, there is evidence that a person can be motivated by his/her preferred strategy of processing information (Molden & Higgins, 2005); however, rather than an alternative, this idea is actually a compliment to the outcome based approach. Proponents of this approach feel that a person prefers a specific method of information processing because it usually yields the results he or she wishes to receive. This relates back to the intended outcome being the primary motivation. By “strategy of information processing” it is meant whether a person makes a decision using bias, categories, or analytical thinking. Regardless of whether the method is best suited for the situation or more thorough is less important to the person than its likelihood of yielding the intended result. People feel that their preferred strategy just "feels right." What makes the heuristic or method feel "right" is that the strategy accomplishes the desired goal (i.e. Affirm positive beliefs of self-efficacy).
Other motivations and approaches
There has been research on motivated tactical thinking outside of western countries; however, there is not much. One theory experts have mentioned is that a person’s culture could play a large role in a person’s motivations. Nations like the United States are considered individualistic cultures, while many Asian nations are considered collectivistic cultures. An individualist places importance on themselves and are motivated by individual reward and affirmations; while a collectivist conceptualizes the world as being more group or culture based. The difference in the two ways of viewing the world could affect motivation in information processing. For example, instead of being motivated by self-serving motivations, a collectivist would be motivated by more group affirming goals.
Another alternative is the motivation that emotions and affect play in the way that a person processes information. Forgas (2000) has stated that conscious and non-conscious affect has been known to provide motivation for cognition and thinking. This states that current mood or can be determinant the information processing as well and thoroughness of thought. He also mentioned that achieving a desired emotion can influence the level to which information is process.
- Fiske, 2004
- Molden & Higgins, 2005
- Molden & Higgins, 2005
- Baumeister, 1998
- Baumeister, R. F. (1998). The self. In D. Gilbert,S. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 680–740). New York: Guilford.
- Fiske, S. T, & Neuberg, S. L. (1990). A continuum of impression formation, from category based to individuating processes: Influences of information and motivation on attention and interpretation. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 1–74). New York: Academic Press.
- Fiske, S. T. (2004). Social Beings: A core motives approach to social psychology. (pg.124). NYC: Wiley.
- Forgas, J. P. (Ed.). (2000). Handbook of affect and social cognition. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Higgins, E. T., & Molden, D. C. (2003). How strategies for making judgments and decisions affect cognition: Motivated cognition revisited. In G. V. Bodenhausen & A. J. Lambert (Eds.), Foundations of social cognition: A festschrift in honor of Robert S. Wyer, Jr. (pp. 21 1–236). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Miller, D. T. (1976). Ego involvement and attributions for success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 901–906.
- Molden, D. C., & Higgins, E. T. (2005). Motivated Thinking. In K. Holyoak & B. Morrison (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning, (pp. 295– 320). New York: Guilford