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Psychol Sci. 2008 Dec;19(12):1294-300. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02238.x.

The case of the transmogrifying experimenter: affirmation of a moral schema following implicit change detection.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, 2136 West Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.


The meaning-maintenance model posits that threats to schemas lead people to affirm unrelated schemas. In two studies testing this hypothesis, participants who were presented with a perceptual anomaly (viz., the experimenter was switched without participants consciously noticing) demonstrated greater affirmation of moral beliefs compared with participants in a control condition. Another study investigated whether the schema affirmation was prompted by unconscious arousal. Participants witnessed the changing experimenter and then consumed a placebo. Those who were informed that the placebo caused side effects of arousal did not show the moral-belief affirmation observed in the previous studies, as they misattributed their arousal to the placebo. In contrast, those who were not informed of such side effects demonstrated moral-belief affirmation. The results demonstrate the functional interchangeability of different meaning frameworks, and highlight the role of unconscious arousal in prompting people to seek alternative schemas in the face of a meaning threat.

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