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Cognition. 2009 Oct;113(1):45-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.07.009. Epub 2009 Aug 22.

Belief inhibition during thinking: not always winning but at least taking part.

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Lab Experimental Psychology, University of Leuven, Tiensestraat 102, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.


Human thinking is often biased by intuitive beliefs. Inhibition of these tempting beliefs is considered a key component of human thinking, but the process is poorly understood. In the present study we clarify the nature of an inhibition failure and the resulting belief bias by probing the accessibility of cued beliefs after people reasoned. Results indicated that even the poorest reasoners showed an impaired memory access to words that were associated with cued beliefs after solving reasoning problems in which the beliefs conflicted with normative considerations (Experiment 1 and 2). The study further established that the impairment was only temporary in nature (Experiment 3) and did not occur when people were explicitly instructed to give mere intuitive judgments (Experiment 4). Findings present solid evidence for the postulation of an inhibition process and imply that belief bias does not result from a failure to recognize the need to inhibit inappropriate beliefs, but from a failure to complete the inhibition process. This indicates that people are far more logical than hitherto believed.

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