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Libel in Fact: Intuitive Judgments

Psychiatrists' intuitive responses to Senator Goldwater

In 2007, Arie Kruglanksi and Edward Orehek of the University of Maryland examined how "dual mode" theories are key to understanding person perception. Dual mode theories state that a person draws on two somewhat different mental systems when judging someone.

The first of the two systems is fast-reacting, and involves largely automatic recognition and quick categorizations of the individual who is being judged. This first system is sometimes called "automatic," "intuitive," "experiential" or, "System 1." We probably share this same system with other mammals.  It evolved early, uses associative memory, involves pattern recognition, and it is responsible for our first impression of liking or disliking someone.

In the 1964 Fact magazine poll of psychiatrists, many of the psychiatrists' comments seemed to reflect this basic, automatic, feeling-pattern response:

"I believe that Barry Goldwater (like all peace-loving people) opposes war..."

"...He frightens the hell out of me..."

"NO psychiatrist of my personal acquaintance is less than alarmed at the Goldwater threat..."

"I'm scared and I'm fighting like hell against this damn fool." 

According to dual-mode theories, there is a second, more logical system that begins its work as the first evaluative system responds. This second system applies a more probing, logical analysis that allows us to consciously and thoughtfully apply rational rules (and scientific rules, if we known them) to understanding and evaluating another person. This system is sometimes called "controlled" or "intentional," "rule-based," or "System 2."

Examples of the more analytic sort of comment that System 2 produces can also be found in the Fact poll, often buttressed by examples and rationales (albeit limited by the magazine format). For example, one respondent wrote that Goldwater exhibited:

"...distinct persecution feelings. For example, when Rockefeller repeated to the Republican Convention some of Goldwater's earlier remarks, Goldwater had a picture of himself distributed which showed an arrow in his back."

(The negativity of the respondents' comments reflects, in part, the overall bias of the Fact poll).  

System 1 and 2 evaluatons can be separated experimentally in laboratory settings.  Outside of the laboratory, however, it is harder to know the process behind a comment. (My examples are meant only to illustrate the concepts involved).

Person perception researchers believe Systems 1 and 2 work together within each of us to produce judgments of others (and sometimes, of ourselves). Ideally, both systems work well but sometimes they do not.

We may be justifiably scared and preoccupied about someone.  If that happens, we may overgeneralize that frightening individual's characteristics to other people. Perhaps that was the case with this respondent:

"I witnessed Hitler's early rise with anxiety...Even the fact that psychiatrists recognized Hitler's power drive as they now recognize Goldwater's is comparable...Goldwater may for personal glory sacrifice the future of the world."

If our experiential System 1 perception is knocked off-course by an earlier real event, our automatic evaluations may mislead us.

System 2 can be impaired as well.  If we are taught incorrect assumptions and inadequate procedures for understanding others, our logical analyses of what others are like will also be compromised. 

For our perception of others to be most accurate, it helps to have accurate intuitions (System 1) and good assumptions and procedures for understanding others (System 2).  When the systems are responding well and are integrated thoughtfully, we can be more secure in our judgments than otherwise. 

So, what about the respondents to the Fact survey?  I suspect that people's perceptions of their leaders are thrown off in times of great national turmoil by emotions such as fear and anger.  Also, the logical assumptions mental health professionals employed in the 1960s to understand others were often very approximate, if not mistaken. 

When both our intuitive and our logical systems of judgment are awry, the reality of others can be difficult to discern. 


An excellent review of dual modes of processing are discussed in: Kruglanski, A. W. & Orehek, E. (2007); Partitioning the Domain of Social Inference: Dual Mode and Systems Models and Their Alternatives. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 291-316.
The quotes are all from: Boroson, W. (1964, September/October). What psychiatrists say about Goldwater. Fact, 1, pp. 24-64. ... : "I witnessed Hitler's early rise with anxiety..." p. 39; "...He frightens the hell out of me..." p. 51; "NO psychiatrist of my personal acquaintance ..." (p. 55); "I'm scared and I'm fighting like hell..." (p. 26). "I believe that Barry Goldwater (like all peace-loving people) ..." (p. 40); "I am highly fearful of Senator Goldwater's casually precipitating us into an all-out atomic war..." p. 30. "His statements and actions show distinct..." (p. 26)

A few edits: line edits, and, +4 days, to acknowledge (again, in this post) the bias in the poll overall.

Copyright © 2009 John D. Mayer