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Flexibility of attitudes and behaviors as a result of cognitive conflicts

WorkgroupSocial Processes
FundingIWM budget resources
Project description

Even when new information or situations suggest new perspectives, people often stick to their previous attitudes and behaviors. For example, when they search for information on the internet or are confronted with it via media, they prefer statements that are in line with previous beliefs to those that deviate from them. Such confirmatory tendencies can have negative consequences such as polarizing attitudes or making suboptimal decisions. A flexible processing style in dealing with new information could counteract this.

This project therefore examined whether and how triggering cognitive flexibility can help to reduce such undesirable rigid tendencies. Cognitive flexibility can be promoted by simultaneously activating conflicting thoughts or goals. In this project, different triggers of cognitive flexibility were investigated as well as their consequences in different contexts.

Conflicting thoughts arise, for example, when one is in competition with people and at the same time has to cooperate with them (so-called co-opetition) or when one thinks about how an event could have happened differently (so-called counterfactual thoughts). The project addressed the question under which conditions such thoughts influence the way subsequent information is processed and which processes contribute to the reduction of cognitive biases in judgment and decision processes. Overall, empirical findings demonstrate the effectiveness of a flexibility mindset in a variety of important phenomena - for example, in relation to creative performance, stereotyping and prejudice, interpersonal behavior and decision-making.


Sassenberg, K., Winter, K., Becker, D., Ditrich, L., Scholl, A., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2022). Flexibility mindsets: Reducing biases that result from spontaneous processing. European Review of Social Psychology, 33(1), 171-213. Open Access


Dr. Nora Hampel Dr. Nora Hampel
Tel.: +49 7071 979-0

Project team

Dr. Kevin Winter