Publication 4724

Nisbett R. E. & Wilson T. D. (1977) Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review 84(3): 231–259. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/4724
Reviews evidence which suggests that there may be little or no direct introspective access to higher order cognitive processes. Ss are sometimes (a) unaware of the existence of a stimulus that importantly influenced a response, (b) unaware of the existence of the response, and (c) unaware that the stimulus has affected the response. It is proposed that when people attempt to report on their cognitive processes, that is, on the processes mediating the effects of a stimulus on a response, they do not do so on the basis of any true introspection. Instead, their reports are based on a priori, implicit causal theories, or judgments about the extent to which a particular stimulus is a plausible cause of a given response. This suggests that though people may not be able to observe directly their cognitive processes, they will sometimes be able to report accurately about them. Accurate reports will occur when influential stimuli are salient and are plausible causes of the responses they produce, and will not occur when stimuli are not salient or are not plausible causes.

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