Abstract: It is proposed that motivation may affect reasoning through reliance on a biased set of cognitive processes—that is, strategies for accessing, constructing, and evaluating beliefs. The motivation to be accurate enhances use of those beliefs and strategies that are considered most appropriate, whereas the motivation to arrive at particular conclusions enhances use of those that are considered most likely to yield the desired conclusion. There is considerable evidence that people are more likely to arrive at conclusions that they want to arrive at, but their ability to do so is constrained by their ability to construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these conclusions. These ideas can account for a wide variety of research concerned with motivated reasoning. The notion that goals or motives affect reasoning has a long and controversial history in social psychology. The propositions that motives may affect perceptions (Erdelyi, 1974), attitudes (Festinger, 1957), and attributions (Heider, 1958) have been put forth by some psychologists and challenged by others. Although early researchers and theorists took it for granted that motivation may cause people to make self-serving attributions and permit them to believe what they want to believe because they want to believe it, this view, and the research used to uphold it, came under concentrated criticism in the 1970s. The major and most damaging criticism of the motivational view was that all research purported to demonstrate motivated reasoning could be reinterpreted in entirely cognitive, nonmotivational terms (Miller & Ross, 1975; Nisbett & Ross, 1980). Thus people could draw self-serving conclusions not because they wanted to but because these conclusions seemed more plausible, given their prior beliefs and expectancies. Because both cognitive and motivational accounts could be generated for any empirical study, some theorists argued that the hot versus cold cognition controversy could not be solved, at least in the attribution paradigm (Ross & Fletcher, 1985; Tetlock & Levi, 1982). One reason for the persistence of this controversy lies in the failure of researchers to explore the mechanisms underlying motivated reasoning. Recently, several authors have attempted to rectify this neglect (Kruglanski & Freund, 1983; Kunda, 1987; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Sorrentino & Higgins, 1986). All these authors share a view of motivation as having its effects through cognitive processes: People rely on cognitive processes and representations to arrive at their desired conclusions, but motivation plays a role in determining which of these will be used on a given occasion.
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