EASP Seedcorn Grant Report by Rebecca Weil
20.06.2018, by Tina Keil in grant report
University of Hull, UK; Project: "At the Boundaries of Misattribution: Exploring Boundary Conditions of the Positivity-Familiarity Effect"
When people need to make judgments under uncertainty they often rely on cues. For example, when trying to answer the question of whether we like a certain object we might rely on the positive feelings that are associated with the fluency of processing familiar stimuli, and therefore judge objects we have encountered before as more positive (e.g., Zajonc, 1968). Similarly, when we are faced with the question whether we have encountered a specific stimulus before we might rely on the ease of processing that stimulus and interpret fluency as a cue for familiarity (Jacoby & Kelley, 1987; Whittlesea & Williams, 2000, 2001). The basic assumption here is that the fluency of processing a stimulus is misattributed to a specific characteristic of that stimulus (e.g., valence, familiarity) and used to answer a question that we are otherwise unsure how to answer (see Loersch & Payne, 2011). A conceptually related effect is the misattribution of positivity to familiarity (positivity-familiarity effect; Corneille, Monin, & Pleyers, 2005; Garcia-Marques, Mackie, Claypool, & Garcia-Marques, 2004; Monin, 2003; Phaf & Rotteveel, 2005). The central idea underlying the positivity-familiarity effect is that positive affect serves as a cue to answer the question of whether a stimulus has been encountered before (Winkielman, Schwarz, Fazendeiro, & Reber, 2003; Zajonc, 1968). The positivity-familiarity effect has been found for attractive faces (Corneille et al., 2005; Monin, 2003), positive words (Monin, 2003), and smiling faces (Garcia-Marques et al., 2004), which were judged as more familiar compared to less attractive faces (Corneille et al., 2005; Monin, 2003), neutral and negative words (Monin, 2003), and faces with neutral expressions (Garcia-Marques et al., 2004).
Weil, Palma and Gawronski (2017) identified an important boundary condition of the positivity-familiarity effect. Positive affect was misattributed to judgments of familiarity only when the task context did not suggest a normatively accurate response to the familiarity-judgment task. That is, the positivity-familiarity effect occurred only when there was no supposedly correct answer to the question of whether the stimuli where familiar or unfamiliar (e.g., through prior stimulus exposure). One possible interpretation of this finding is that the motivation to give accurate responses might have led to a greater reliance on cognitive strategies and a reduced reliance on “gut feelings,” the latter of which might be critical for misattribution to occur (see Eder & Deutsch, 2015; De Houwer & Smith, 2013).
However, a limitation of the studies by Weil et al. (2017) is that they found a positivity-familiarity effect only in one set of studies (i.e. without an accuracy goal present) but not in another set of studies (i.e. with presence of an accuracy goal). Thus, although the presence vs. absence of an accuracy goal may explain the difference, any such explanation is speculation without a direct experimental manipulation of these characteristics. Thus, one aim of the current research project was to replicate the moderation of an accuracy goal, using an experimental manipulation.
Curiously, although an accuracy goal seemed to counteract a misattribution of positivity to familiarity in the studies by Weil et al. (2017), it seemed to have no such detrimental effect in previous research on the positivity-familiarity effect. For example, Garcia-Marques et al. (2004) as well as Phaf and Rotteveel (2005) found reliable effects of valence on judgments of familiarity although both studies included a memory phase prior to the familiarity-judgment task. One explanation for the seemingly inconsistent results with respect to the positivity-familiarity effect might be that other factors that increase the likelihood of misattribution carry more weight when an accuracy goal is present. It has been found that misattribution is typically reduced or eliminated when the true source is more salient than the apparent source (e.g., Jones, Fazio, & Olson, 2009; Oikawa, Aarts, & Oikawa, 2011; Ruys, Aarts, Papies, Oikawa, & Oikawa, 2012; White & Knight, 1984). When positivity is induced contextually by a prime, longer prime presentations might lead to higher salience of the prime. Thus, short prime presentations might enhance the likelihood of misattribution. For example, the fact that previous studies have used very short prime presentations (typically below 30 ms; e.g., Garcia-Marques et al., 2004) might be an explanation for the occurrence of a positivity-familiarity effect in these studies. Thus, another aim of the present project was to investigate the role of prime salience for the occurrence of positivity-familiarity effects. Does an accuracy goal moderate the positivity-familiarity effect?
To replicate the findings of Weil et al. (2017), participants were asked to rate the familiarity of neutral targets (i.e. Chinese ideographs). More specifically, they were asked whether the ideographs seem familiar or unfamiliar. The targets were preceded by positive, negative and neutral primes (see Payne, Cheng, Govorun, & Stewart, 2005). The task context in the goal relevant condition suggested a normatively accurate response to the familiarity task (i.e., due to a prior bogus subliminal presentation of targets). The task context in the goal irrelevant condition did not suggest any accurate response (i.e., due to a prior bogus subliminal presentation of numbers). Contrary to our prediction, we found a positivity-familiarity effect in both conditions and accuracy goal relevance did not moderate this effect. These results might be interpreted as an indication that the manipulation of goal relevance was not strong enough to produce the predicted moderation. Experiment 2 investigated this possibility by employing a modified manipulation of goal relevance.
Experiment 2 was identical to Experiment 1 with the exception of the manipulation of accuracy goal relevance. All participants saw a bogus subliminal presentation of targets in the first part of the experiment. In the goal relevant condition participants were asked to judge whether the ideographs were presented to them before and are thus old/new. In the goal irrelevant condition participants were asked to judge whether the ideographs seem familiar or unfamiliar. This time the results showed no significant positivity-familiarity effect, or any other statistical significant effect. We concluded that the manipulation of goal relevance was successful in the goal relevant condition. However, the bogus subliminal task in the goal irrelevant condition might have still allowed for the presence of an accuracy goal (as we originally assumed in Experiment 1), making the positivity-familiarity effect fragile under this condition.
Does prime duration moderate positivity-familiarity effects?
When positivity is induced contextually by primes, longer prime presentations might lead to higher salience of the prime. Thus, short prime presentations might enhance the likelihood of misattribution. Participants were asked to rate the familiarity of neutral targets. The targets were preceded by positive, negative and neutral primes. The duration of prime presentation (long prime presentation: 200 ms vs. short prime presentation: 20 ms) was manipulated between-participants. It was predicted that if positivity-familiarity effects are moderated by prime duration, effects should be stronger in the short prime presentation condition as compared to the long prime presentation condition. Accuracy goal relevance was not manipulated in this experiment. The results showed that the positivity-familiarity effect was indeed moderated by prime duration. Yet, contrary to our predictions, positivity-familiarity effects were found only in the long prime condition and were non-significant in the short prime condition. While higher prime salience did not reduce positivity-familiarity effects, we assume that shorter prime exposure reduced the strength of the priming effects and thus, did not lead to positivity-familiarity effects. To replicate the results of Experiment 3 and further investigate the reduction of priming effects due to short prime exposure, we included an additional valence judgment condition in Experiment 4.
Participants were asked to either rate the familiarity (familiarity judgment condition) or the valence (valence judgment condition) of neutral targets. The targets were preceded by positive, negative and neutral primes. The duration of prime presentation (long prime presentation: 200 ms vs. short prime presentation: 20 ms) was manipulated between-participants. The results showed that priming effects were stronger in the long prime condition as compared to the short prime condition, when participants judged the valence of targets. There was no difference between the short and long prime condition when participants judged the familiarity of targets. The analysis revealed an overall significant positivity-familiarity effect. These findings are in contrast to the findings of Experiment 3. To consolidate inconsistent findings of Experiment 3 and Experiment 4, Experiment 5 replicated the prime-duration manipulation in a within-participants design. Does an accuracy goal moderate the effect of prime duration on positivity-familiarity effects?
The aim of Experiment 5 was two-fold, to consolidate inconsistent findings of Experiment 3 and 4 and to shed further light on the conditions that induce an accuracy goal (Experiment 1 and 2), influencing positivity-familiarity effects. To this end, participants were asked to rate the familiarity of neutral targets. Targets were preceded by positive, negative and neutral primes. The duration of prime presentation (long prime presentation: 200 ms vs. short prime presentation: 20 ms) was manipulated within-participants. The task context in the goal relevant condition suggested a normatively accurate response to the familiarity task (i.e., due to a prior bogus subliminal presentation of targets). Participants in this condition were instructed to judge whether the targets were presented to them before and are thus old/new. The task context in the goal irrelevant condition did not suggest any accurate response (i.e., due to a prior bogus subliminal presentation of numbers). Participants in this condition were instructed to judge whether the targets seem familiar or unfamiliar. Results showed a significant positivity-familiarity effect only in the goal irrelevant condition, in line with our prediction. Prime duration did not influence the positivity-familiarity effect. Thus, positivity-familiarity effects seem to be uninfluenced by prime salience.
Taken together, the present research corroborated that positivity-familiarity effects are more likely to occur when there is no supposedly correct answer to the question of whether stimuli are familiar or unfamiliar. Moreover, the salience of the true source of positivity does not seem to influence the misattribution of positivity to familiarity. Our investigation of boundary conditions of the positivity-familiarity effect helps to shed light on seemingly inconsistent findings with respect to misattribution of positivity to familiarity judgments. Future investigations should focus on investigating other potential boundary conditions of the positivity-familiarity effect, as these conditions might have implications for other misattribution phenomena as well. To the extent that different misattribution phenomena are influenced differently, it might question the assumption that the same process underlies these phenomena. This research was conducted in collaboration with Bertram Gawronski (University of Texas at Austin, USA) and Tomás Palma (University of Lisbon, Portugal). A manuscript is currently in preparation. We are thankful for the opportunity afforded by the EASP Seedcorn Grant, allowing us to conduct the above presented studies.
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