Anderson, C.A. (1989).

Causal reasoning and belief perseverance.

In D.W. Schumann (Ed.), Proceedings of the Society for Consumer Psychology (pp. 115-120). Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee.


This paper explores the role of causal reasoning in producing beliefs that are unreasonably resistant to change. This perseverance effect has been explored for three types of beliefs: beliefs about oneself (self impressions); beliefs about another person (social impressions); and beliefs about variables in the external world (social theories). Though the role of causal reasoning in belief perseverance has been explored in several paradigms, the focus here is on the debriefing paradigm. In this paradigm, subjects are led to hold one of two conceptually opposite beliefs by the presentation of some initial data. Later some subjects are decreased—hold about the totally fictitious nature of the initial data. Finally, subjects are asked to indicate their true personal beliefs. Belief perseverance is indicated when debriefed subjects cling to their experimentally induced initial belief. Four different ways of testing for the effects of causal reasoning on belief perseverance are presented. In each case, results indicate that causal reasoning increases resistance to changing one's belief. Reducing or preventing causal thinking during the formation of initial beliefs reduces the perseverance effect. Increasing or enabling causal thinking during the formation of initial beliefs increases the perseverance effect. Forcing a person to think causally about related alternative explanations reduces the perseverance effect. Statistically controlling for amount of spontaneous causal thinking (or its byproducts) reduces the perseverance effect. Applications of these findings to real world belief induction and change situations are discussed.

© 1988 by Craig A. Anderson.