Anderson, C. A., & Sechler, E. S. (1986).

Effects of explanation and counterexplanation on the development and use of social theories.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 24-34.


Social theories-beliefs about relations between variables in the social environment-are often used in making judgments, predictions, or decisions. Three experiments on the role of explanation in the development and use of social theories were presented. We found that explaining how or why two variables might be related leads to an increased belief in and use of the explained theory. A counter-explanation task was found to be effective in eliminating this initial explanation bias (Experiments 2 & 3). These explanation and counterexplanation effects occurred in a variety of theory domains (Experiment 1), with simple belief measures (Experiments 1 & 3), and with complex social judgments involving multiple predictor variables (Experiment 2). Finally, we found that such new, explanation-induced beliefs did not lead to biased evaluation of new data. However, exposure to new data indicating a zero relation between the social variables in question only moderated the explanation-induced theories; it did not eliminate them (Experiment 3). Implications for decision making in real-world contexts and for understanding the cognitive processes underlying explanation effects in the present and in related judgment domains were also examined.

©1986 by the American Psychological Association.

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