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Accessibility Theory

E. Tory Higgins

ABSTRACT ACCESSIBILITY THEORY


Over 30 years have passed since I began studying the When I was a social psychology
priming and accessibility of social constructs. What has
graduate student at Columbia in
the early 1970s, most o; the
made the journey since then so enjoyable are all the
colleagues and friends who collaborated in deepening and
broadening our knowledge of the nature and functions of seminars I took were taught by
priming and accessibility. Writing this chapter helped me Stanley Schachter, but I ended
to appreciate how much we have learned over the years up doing most of my research in
about the sources and the consequences of accessibility as
collaboration with Janellen
Huttenlocher who was then a
a basic principle of psychology. We know, for example,
that when recent and frequent priming are combined with
chronic accessibility (the additivity principle), even professor at Columbia Teachers
extremely vague information about someone will be used College. Together we did
as a basis for forming~an impression of that person (the research in psycholioguistics;
compensation principle). We know that when people are
more specifically, research on
verbal reasoning. My dissertation
aware of the priming event, they will often correct for its
influence, thereby producing an opposite judgmental bias
(contrast). We know that subliminally priming social advisor was Robert Krauss and
category knowledge will produce actions in line with that my dissertation was on
knowledge (even in the absence of a member of the developmental and social class
category), but the specific action will also depend on some-
differences in communication.
Given all this, when I applied for
one's attitude toward category members. This latter lesson
is part of a recent and developing story that priming and
accessibility effects depend on the relevance o' a a job at Princeton, the faculty
stimulated construct. Priming and accessibility is not just members were not quite sure
about cognition, it is about motivation. what I was. Because of my
background with Schachter and
Krauss, I was partly a social
psychologist, but my overarching
research issue - the relations Well, it took several years
among language, thought, and before I followed his advice, but
society - was not what interested once I reached Princeton in 1972,
most social psychologists. I decided to try to do exactly
Because of my research on what he had told me - to
psycholinguisticsHANDBOOK OF THEORIES
76 and combine
OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGYsocial psychology and
communication, 1 was partly a cognitive psychology. I had been
cognitive psychologist, but my interested in person perception
formal graduate training was in for some time and was familiar
social psychology. with the "New Look" perspective
So what did Princeton do? on perception. The New Look
Princeton's Solomon-like decision literature had reported how
was to hire me in their "open" individuals' needs and
slot (rather than in either social expectancies could influence
psychology or cognitive their judgments of things, such as
psychology) where I would teach a greater need for money being
developmental psychology associated with judging coins to
courses, without my ever having be bigger in size. At the general
taken even one course in level, what this work seemed to
developmental psychology. The demonstrate ("seemed" because
rationale was simple, however. the conclusions were still
After all, wasn't Janellen somewhat controversial) was that
Huttenlocher herself a devel- individual difference factors
opmental psychologist (even could influence judgments
though our research together separately from the properties of
was not developmental)? And the target of judgment. In
wasn't my dissertation on Bruner's (1957a. b) terms,
developmental differences in individuals can be set or ready to
communication? Well, I guess perceive certain things because
they had me there! they want them or expect them
I relate this story because 1 to be there, and this readiness
believe that it is precisely my results in their going beyond the
background as a part social information given in their judg-
psychologist and part cognitive ments; that is, they make a
psychologist that was critical to judgment of the target that is not
my early research on printing and based solely on the target's
accessibility. Indeed, before properties.
going to Columbia for my PhD I According to Bruner (1957a:
had worked on a social 133), categories varied in their
psychology MA at the London accessibility, which is "the
School of Economics and Political readiness with which a stimulus
Science. "Social psychology MA" input with given properties will
you say? Aha! That means that be coded or identified in terms
you were a social psychologist! of a category." To use Bruner's
Actually, it is not that simple. My (1957a: 130) example, if the
advisor at LSE, Norman Hotopf, category "apple" has high
was a PhD student of Bertrand accessibility, then "apples will be
Russell and a postdoctoral more easily and swiftly
student with Frederick Bartlett. recognized, a wider range of
He is best known for his work on things will be identified or
eye movement and on the misidentified as apples, and in
relation between language and consequence the correct or best
thought. His hero was Roger fitting identity of these other
Brown. Once again, he was not a inputs will be masked." What this
typical social psychologist and means is that the likelihood that
was, if anything, more of a some input will be categorized in
psycholinguist. But before I left terms of a given category
LSE in 1968 he had said to me depends not only on the overlap
that what I should do in the between the sensory input and
future is to try to combine social the category's specifications but
psychology and cognitive also on the accessibility of that
psychology: "You know, category.
something like social cognition."
Where does accessibility come marked adjective [light] versus
from? This, of course, was a key an unmarked adjective [heavy];
question. According to Bruner is a regular form versus a
(1957a), the relative accessibility negative equative ["Bob is not
of a category depends upon two as heavy as Dick"]). What
factors. First, accessibility Janellen and I most cared about
depends on the expectancies of a THEORY
ACCESSIBILITY was to explain how 77the
person regarding the likelihood information from the two
of a type of event that will be premises was combined, and
encountered in the environment, how the linguistic form of each
with higher accessibility for premise influenced the process
events of higher likelihood. High of combining the information.
accessibility from such frequency But we got involved in a debate
of past exposure functions to with Herb Clark about verbal
minimize the surprise value of reasoning that forced us to
the environment. Second, provide some explanation for
accessibility depends on the the effect of the adjective in the
search requirements of the question - "Who is heaviest?"
person imposed by that person's versus "Who is lightest?"
needs and ongoing enterprises. Janellen and I found that
High accessibility in this case participants solved the problem
functions to maximize the faster when the adjective in the
attainment of sought-after question matched the active in
objects and events. the second premise, that is, the
g most recent premise. We
It occurred to me that there proposed that activation of the
was something about Burner's category meaning of the
conceptualization of accessi- adjective in the second premise
bility that was incomplete. made that meaning temporarily
According to this theory, a more accessible, which in turn
category was accessible in the made it easier to activate that
present when we expected or meaning again when the same
wanted an instance of that adjective appeared in the
category to appear. When a question (Huttenlocher and
category was accessible, we Higgins, 1971) - what we would
looked for and searched for an now call a recent priming effect
instance of that category in on temporary- accessibility.
order to avoid surprises or In our studies, which involved
attain desired end- states. I was many trials for each participant,
not satisfied with this account the likelihood that the adjective
of accessibility. I was not in the question would be a mis-
satisfied because it did not match to the adjective in the
cover the case of accessibility second premise was the same as
which Janellen Huttenlocher the likelihood that it would be a
and I had uncovered a few match. Given this equal
years earlier. likelihood, having higher
After arriving at Columbia in accessibility of the adjective in
1968, I began working with the second premise would not
Huttenlocher on explaining why function to "minimize the
different kinds of three-term surprise value of the environ-
syllogisms varied in difficulty - ment." In addition, the goal of
the psychology of verbal the task was to search for the
reasoning. The so-called person who was the answer to
"three-term series problem" the question (e.g., "Tom") and
involves two premises and a not to satisfy some need
question, such as: 'Tom is associated with the adjective in
lighter than Bob"; "Dick is the second premise. That is,
heavier than Bob," "Who is comprehending the question
heaviest?" The difficulty of faster because its adjective
solving the problems depends matched the adjective in the
on the linguistic form of each second premise was not due to
premise (e.g., contains a the question adjective being a
desired end-state. What was
clear to me was that something having influenced the
about accessibility was going on subsequent social judgment.
in the three-term series problem And what if the target person's
which was not captured in behavior was evaluatively
Bruner's account. But what was ambiguous; that is, had features
it?
78 that
HANDBOOK OF THEORIES OF SOCIAL fit two different categories
PSYCHOLOGY
Much of the accessibility with opposite valence (e.g., a
studied by Bruner and others in persistent person versus a
the New Look concerned stubborn person)? If so, then
relatively long-term differences per- ceivers could end up with
in accessibility, such as either a positive or negative
differences in the value of a coin impression of the target person
as a function of personal wealth. depending on whether - in an
Some of the phenomena earlier totally separate situation -
examined, such as food they had been verbally primed
deprivation effects on perceiving with one word or another (i.e.,
food- related items, were more the word "persistent" versus the
temporary, but even here it word "stubborn"). This would be
concerned hours of deprivation a very different kind of
and not seconds. In contrast, the accessibility effect!
effect of the second premise
adjective on comprehending the
question adjective would be an MY FIRST PRIMING AND
accessibility effect after seconds
of activation. Indeed, we knew ACCESSIBILITY STUDY:
that the effect of adjective match THE "DONALD" STUDY
was reduced if participants had
to say three digits between the Psychologists had long
second premise and the recognized that categorizing an
question (see Huttenlocher and object or person in a certain way
Higgins, 1971). This is why we had subsequent effects on how
called it temporary accessibility. that person would later be
How might such temporary remembered and evaluated (e.g.,
accessibility be conceptualized? Carmichael et al.. 1932; Kelley,
Huttenlocher and I had 1950). But where did such
suggested that activating categorization come from? The
categorical meaning from standard answer was some
exposure to a word (i.e., priming) combination of the subjective
made that meaning temporarily perception of the target's
more accessible, which in turn properties (i.e.. the perceived
made that meaning easier to overlap between those perceived
activate upon later exposure to a target properties and the
meaning-related stimulus. In our properties of different stored
case, the later meaning-related categories), plus some
stimulus was the same adjective motivational biases or pref-
appearing again. But what if erences for applying one or
something more general were another category to a particular
going on? What if recent target Temporary accessibility of
activation of category meaning a category meaning from recent
from priming a word made that verbal priming was a very
category meaning temporarily different kind of source. This
more accessible, which in turn source had nothing to do with
made it easier to activate upon the target's properties or the
later exposure to behavioral perccivers' needs. It concerned
information that related to that simply prior activation of the
meaning? If soj then verbal category meaning, which could
priming of a category in one occur in an incidental situation
situation could increase the that had nothing to do "with the
likelihood of that category being target and could impact how the
used subsequently to categorize target is categorized without the
someone's behavior in a perceiver being aware of the
separate situation - without any influence. It was the kind of scary
awareness of the first situation
source that reminded me of
Freud's unconscious motives as a
biasing factor in judgment - but
it was situational priming rather
than the id.
Now the question was whether
temporary accessibilityACCESSIBILITY
from THEORY 79
verbal priming could really do all
of this. In 1973 I began to
develop a way to study this issue
with an undergraduate at
Princeton, Carl Jones, and then
continued to work on it with
Steve Rholes when he arrived as
a graduate student in 1974. The
psycholinguistic roots of the
project were apparent in the title
of Carl Jones' senior thesis, "An
experiment on the effect of lan-
guage on nonlinguistic
behavior." The combining of
cognitive psychology and social
psychology was more evident in
the final title of the published
version of the research,
"Category accessibility and
impression formation" (see
Higgins et al., 1977).
The first question was how to
accomplish the verbal priming in
a way that would increase a
category's accessibility for more
than just a few seconds, and in a
manner that would
psychologically separate the
verbal priming event itself from
the target person information
used to form an impression. We
decided to use an unrelated
studies paradigm. The
participants were told that there
were two separate studies
conducted by two different
experimenters that took place in
two separate rooms (separated
by a long hallway). Given our
procedure, the increased
accessibility from priming in "the
first study" had to last several
minutes to have an effect on
judgment in "the second study."
I should note that some of these
details do not appear in the
published paper, but it
influenced our decisions when
designing subsequent priming
studies. The participants were
told that
The participants returned 10 to I should say, however, that I
14 days later for "another was not just surprised that the
comprehension study." (They priming really worked. I was
were onlv debriefed after this disturbed by it. Indeed, I am still
second session.) Although the disturbed by it. Bruner's
positive
80 and negative accessibility
HANDBOOK OF THEORIES OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY is not disturbing. It is
"applicable" participants during reasonable and even beneficial
the first session had not differed for current input information to
in their ratings of Donald's be captured by an accessible
desirability as a person, they did category because it is expected
differ now, rating him as more or because it satisfies some need.
desirable if they had been But it is neither reasonable nor
positively primed than if they had beneficial for a category to be
been negatively primed. accessible simply because it
Importantly, this effect on happened to be, incidentally,
attitudes toward Donald was verbally primed in a prior
found both for those participants situation; and then determine,
who had been asked explicitly in several minutes later, how a
the first session to characterize person's behavior is cvaluatively
Donald (overt characterization) categorizcTl in a separate situa-
and for those who had not tion; and then, two weeks later,
received such explicit instructions make that person seem more
(no overt characterization). For desirable or undesirable as a
the latter participants, their person. I will return to this
attitudes toward Donald were problem at the end of this
spontaneous and evident two chapter.
weeks after priming. Thus, for
them, the priming effect on
categorization was coven in the
first session and had a lasting, if GENERALIZING PRIMING AND
not increasing, effect on ACCESSIBILITY EFFECTS: THE
attitudes. "DUNCKER CANDLE" STUDY
To my knowledge, this was the
first study to demonstrate that My first question after the
verbal-priming in one situation "Donald" study was about the
could influence how target potential breadth of priming and
information was categorized accessibility effects. If priming
several minutes later in a totally could do this to people's
separate situation, without any impressions of a target person,
awareness of this happening. what else could it do? Working
Moreover, this impact on
categorization influenced atti- with "three-term
Huttenlocher
series" problems
on
had
tudes toward the target two sparked my interest in problem-
weeks later. Although I had solving more generally. I became
predicted that this would especially fascinated with
happen, I was still surprised that "creativity" problems (e.g.,
it did. In fact, it was surprising to Duncker, 1945). I wondered
many other people as well and whether priming and accessibility
was considered a fluke by some could be used to get people to
(i.e., a type II error). It was not
fully accepted until it was see something differently and
reolicated several times by us thereby facilitate creative insight.
and by others (e.g.. Srull and In 1976, I began working on this
Wyer, 1979, 1980). Of course, by problem with William Chaires,
now it has been replicated another undergraduate at
hundreds of times in many Princeton. To study this issue, we
different forms in many different chose Duncker's (1945) famous
labs. It is no longer considered candle problem:
surprising. Thanks to Thomas
Mussweiler, it was even given a Subjects are seated at a table on which there is a
thirtieth birthday party, the cardboard wall, a candle, a full book of matches, and a
box filled with thumbtacks Subjects are told that the*
"Donald Symposium," at the task is to affix the candle to the cardboard wall so that
Society of Experimental Social the candle burns properly but does not drip wax on the
Psychology in 2007. table The difficult part of the problem s to think of using
ail participants were given the
the box as a platform for the candle, rather than just as a
instructions for the "interference"
container for the tacks. The critical factor in solving the
candle problem. There was a
problem appears to be how subjects encode the box

What is difficult about this time limit of ten minutes to solve


Hied with thumbtacks.

problem is that the most natural the problem.


way for people to categorize the THEORYIn the "Of* priming condition,
stimulus is box of tacks, which the average time working on the
ACCESSIBILITY 81

makes people think of the box as problem was nine minutes and
just a container for the tacks (see only 20 percent solved the
Glucksberg and Weisberg, 1966). problem, which is quite typical
The "of" categorization for this problem. In the "And"
associates the box with the tacks condition, on the other hand, the
in an undifferentiated manner, average time was 4.5 minutes
which highlights its function as a and 80 percent solved the
container. To solve the problem problem - a dramatic improve-
requires changing set and ment! These studies (Higgins and
thinking of the box instead as a Chaires, 1980) demonstrated that
potential platform - a platform priming and accessibility had a
for the candle! If the stimulus potential power over thought
were categorized as a "box and and behavior that was far greater
tacks," this could differentiate than had been appreciated
the box from the tacks, before. They were the first
establishing the box as more of studies to demonstrate that
an independent object. priming could influence
The trick, then, would be to someone's behavior on a task,
make the "and" construction including creative behavior on a
temporarily more accessible than difficult problem-solving task.
the "of" construction by priming They showed that priming and
the "and" construction. To accessibility effects are not just
accomplish this, we again used restricted to influencing people's
the "unrelated studies" para- recognition of what things are
digm. The participants were told (e.g., someone's behavior is
that we wished to study the "persistent" versus "stubborn");
effects of interference on they can also influence people's
long-term memory; they would recognition of how things work.
be shown a series of objects to
remember and, in the
"interference" condition, they BEYOND ACCESSIBILITY
would have to work on a FROM PRIMING
problem before recalling the
objects. The "interference" was In 1978 I left Princeton for the
working on the Duncker candle University of Western Ontario in
problem. London, Ontario. For the first
The "objects to be time I was in a department with
remembered" were various colleagues who identified
different objects, such as a themselves as personality
banana, a football, a pair of psychologists, such as Dick
scissors, plus some objects that Sorrentino. Up to this point I had
were a container with content, thought of accessibility only in
such as a bowl containing cereal terms of priming and temporary
and a carton containing eggs. accessibility. Now I began to
The experimenter labeled the consider the possibility of their
objects when they appeared on a being individual differences in
slide. In the "Of* priming the chronic accessibility of
condition, the slides with con- stored constructs that was
tainer-content objects were separate from the temporary
labeled as "bowl of cereal," accessibility produced by
"canon of eggs," and so oa In the priming. But there was no
"And" priming condition, these available measure of individual
same slides were labeled as differences in chronic
"bowl and cereal," "carton and accessibility. How might such
eggs," and so on. After priming, differences be measured?
INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN example, the trait construct
CHRONIC ACCESSIBILITY "friendly" might be a chronically
accessible construct for one
1 wanted to distinguish participant but not for another
accessibility from availability. participant - although it was
Previous theories
82 hadOFempha-
HANDBOOK clearly
THEORIES OF SOCIAL available for the latter
PSYCHOLOGY
sized individual differences in participant - and the essay
the kinds of constructs that are description of the target person
actually present in memory to be which both participants received
used to process the world, which would be as follows: "Person A is
involves a difference in construct the kind of person who
availability (see Kelly, 1955; spontaneously strikes up conver-
Markus, 1977; Mischel, 1973). In goes out of their way toand
sations with others who
say hello
contrast, I wanted a measure of to someone."
individual differences in The first thing that we
construct accessibility. At discovered was that individuals'
Western, Gillian King and I ulti- chronically accessible constructs
mately developed a measure are surprisingly idiosyncratic (see
where we asked participants to Higgins
list the traits (maximum of ten) et al., 1982). Looking at all
for: (1) a type of person whom possible pairs of participants,
you like; (2) a type of person we found that the average per-
whom you dislike; (3) a type of centage of overlap of accessible
person whom you seek out; (4) a constructs was less,than 10
type of person whom you avoid; percent, with more than half of
and (5) a type of person whom the pairs having no overlap at
you frequently encounter. There all in their chronically accessible
was a four- to five-minute delay constructs! After reading the
between completing one essay, there was a ten-minute
question and receiving the next delay filled with i, nonverbal
question - time that was filled interference task, and then the
with a nonverbal task to wipe participants were asked to
out working memory. To capture reproduce the essay exactly.
the accessibility of a construct, wot& for word (recall). Next
the measure selected traits that they were asked to give their
were listed/trjr in response to a impression of the target person.
question - output primacy. For both participants' recall and
Now that we had a measure of impression of the target person,
chronic accessibility, the a trait description of the target
question was whether individual person from the original essay
differences in chronic was less likely to be deleted if it
accessibility influence how target exemplified a participant's
person information is processed. chronically accessible
To examine this question, we first constructs than if it exemplified
gave participants our chronic an inaccessible construct. There
accessibility measure. Then, in an was also a high positive
"unrelated study" that took place correlation between the
about a week later, they read evaluative tone of participants'
information about a target impressions of the target and
person. The essay with the target their liking for the target (r =
person information was indi- 0.70). which means that
vidually tailored to each individual differences in chronic
participant. Half of the accessibility can influence
trait-related behavioral attitudes toward others as well.
descriptions exemplified one of Around the time that the new
that participant's chronically research on chronic accessibility
accessible constructs, and the was being conducted (J 979), I
other half of the descriptions went to the University of
exemplified a trait that was not Michigan as a visiting professor.
accessible to that participant but It was during my stay there
was an accessible construct for when I began to develop a
another participant in the study - more general model of
a quasi-yoking design. For knowledge activation (see
Higgins and King, 1981). In ACCESSIBILITY AS ENERGY
addition to distinguishing POTENTIAL (THE SYNAPSE MODEL)
between available versus VERSUS TOP OF THE STORAGE BIN
accessible constructs, chronic
versus temporary accessibility, In Higgins and King (1981) I also
and applicable versus addressed for the first time what
nonapplicable constructs, the THEORY
ACCESSIBILITY
it meant for something to
83
be
model introduced two accessible. I probably could have
additional distinctions: active continued doing research on
versus passive processing (i.e., accessibility without explicitly
controlled versus automatic); adJressing this question. After
accessibility as "top of the
storage bin" (what became all, I could do priming studies
Wyer and Srull's "storage bin" and measure chronic
model) versus accessibility as accessibility without having to
"energy potential" (what make an explicit claim about
became my "synapse" model). what it meant for something to
be accessible. But two events
happened that motivated me to
think about this basic issue. The
ACTIVE (CONTROLLED) VERSUS first event was a visit to the
PASSIVE (AUTOMATIC) PROCESSING University of Alberta in the
spring of 1978 where I gave a
In the early 1970s when 1 was a talk about the "Donald" study.
graduate j student at Columbia, An animal learning psychologist
one of Michael Posncr's j listened carefully to the talk and
collaborators, Robert Warren, then, during the discussion
came to Columbia as a new period, asked me - in a
assistant professor. Posner and thoughtful what 1
and polite manner -
meant by something
Warren (1972) had distinguished being "accessible."
between active, conscious innocent, "pardon my Itignorance"was an
processes that are deliberate and question that completely floored
conlrolled, versus passive, uncon- me. I had no idea how to answer
scious processes that occur his question, and simply said
automatically and are that 1 needed time to answer it
uncontrolled - a distinction that and could we talk about it later -
became more popularly known which we did. And it was true - I
as controlled versus automatic did need, time to answer his
processing (Shiffrin and question.
Schneider, 1977). Whereas set is The second event was in the
an active process in which summer of 1978 at the Ontario
conscious attention is delib- Symposium on Social Cognition
erately directed toward the that took place in London,
expected event, priming effects, Ontario when I had a
such as those found in the conversation with Bob Wyer.
Higgins et al. (1977) study, What we talked abSut - among
involve passive, automatic many other things late into the
activation of constructs: they night - was his new "storage
occur without intention and bin" model of accessibility that
without conscious awareness (see he presented at the conference
Bargh and Pietromonaco, 1982; (Wyer and Srull, _981).
Higgins and King, 1981; Smith et According to Wyer and Srull's
al., 1992). This distinction was storage bin model, priming a
highlighted in Higgins and King construct made it more
(1981) for good reason - it is the accessible because when a
fact that accessibility effects can construct is recently activated it
occur without intention or is replaced on top of a layered
awareness which makes them so storage bin, and constructs are
intriguing and disturbing. subsequently used as a function
of their position in the bin,
beginning from the top of the
bin. With time, other constructs
are likely to be used and then disconfirm the other. This was the
deposited on top of the bin, first time when I had ever had
thereby accounting for the such a conversation. It was the
decline of priming effects over kind of conversation that
time (i.e., accessibility decay). A philosophers of science claim
construct thatHANDBOOK
84 is frequently that
OF THEORIES OF SOCIAL scientists should do - find
PSYCHOLOGY
activated, that is, frequent ways to disconfirm a theory.
priming, has a greater likelihood Instead, most scientists look for
of having been activated ways to support their theory. But
recently and then deposited on Bob and I tried to find an
top of the bin, thereby account- experiment that would disconfirm
ing for why decay effects over one of the two models. One
time are reduced when there is critical difference between the
frequent priming (see Srull and models was that, according to
Wyer. 1979, 1980). the storage bin model, recent
Thanks to the Alberta question activation could maintain high
from months before, I had been accessibility, even more than an
thinking about the concept of alternative frequently activated
"accessibility" for a while and I construct, as long as the recently
had a different metaphor in activated construct (rather than
mind than a storage bin. My the frequently activated con-
preferred metaphor was an struct) remained on top of the
energy cell whose energy or bin. The key was to make sure
action potential is increased that no competing construct was
whenever the cell is activated, activated during the delay period.
and this energy slowly dissipates The full design and execution of
with time. This was a more such a critical test would take a
dynamic and less structural few years - until after I left
metaphor. Later on when 1 was Western NYU I
and went to NYU. At
was blessed with a new
at New York University (NYU), 1 colleague, John Bargh. who had
realized that there were different very similar "burning issues" to
possible "energy transmission" me. Luckily for me, he was willing
models, and my preference was to collaborate, together with a
a more biological system model graduate student Wendy
than a battery-like model. I went Lombardi, to fully flesh out the
to speak to a colleague of mine design and deal with the issue of
who was a neuroscientist, Tony ensuring that no competing
Movshon. After explaining what construct was activated following
I wanted my model to recent priming. The solution was
accomplish, he suggested that I to have participants perform a
read the work of Eric Kandel at counting backward task
Columbia (e.g.. Kandel. 1976). 1 immediately after the last prime,
became convinced that the that is. the most recently
functioning of the "synapse" was activated construct. The positive
my best metaphor, and the and negative primes were the
model became the synapse same trait terms used in Higgins
model (see Higgins et al., 1985). et al. (1977), plus synonyms of
But, to return to my story, when those trait terms. For each
I was talking tc Bob in 1978, I positive-negative set of trait-
had only a vague energy cell related terms (e.g., persistent,
model. However, even then, it determined, steadfast versus
was different from Wyer and stubborn, obstinate, headstrong),
Srull's storage bin model. either the positive or negative
An unusual thing happened in trait was primed most frequently
my conversation with Bob that and its opposite was primed only
night. We actually discussed what once but most recently (i.e., the
the essential differences between last prime), followed immediately
the two models were, and by the counting backward tagk.
whether an experimental study Thus, frequency of activation was
could be designed to provide a pitted against recent activation
critical test whose results would and no competing construct was
support one model but activated after recent priming.
Because there was no still pitted against recent
competing construct after the priming, and we replicated the
last prime, the storage bin model reversal effect as a function of
predicts that the construct delay time (Bargh et al., 1988).
primed most recently will This research program provided
dominate categorization of strong support for the synapse
Donald's behaviors afterACCESSIBILITY
both a THEORY
model, and it led to a revision85 of
short and a long delay filled with the storage bin model to
counting backward. But the account for this reversal effect
synapse model makes a different (Wyer and Srull, 1989). It is also a
prediction. After a very brief fond memory that I will always
delay, the excitation level of the cherish of collaborating with
recently primed construct should another scientist. Bob Wyer, on
be higher than that of opposite testing the competing
frequently primed construct predictions of two different
because recent activation brings theories.
excitation to its maximal level
and the frequently primed
construct has already decayed to
some extent. This would result in KNOWLEDGE ACTIVATION THEORY:
Donald's behaviors being THE NEXT GENERATION
categorized in terms of the
recently primed construct. But Explicitly distinguishing between
after a long two-minute delay, accessibility from recent priming
the frequently primed construct versus from frequent priming,
will have decayed less than the and between accessibility from
recently primed construct recent priming versus from
because, consistent with the chronic individual differences,
synapse metaphor, the decay turned out to be important not
function for a construct that is only for testing the unique
multiply primed should be predictions of the synapse
slower than the decay function model and the storage bin
for a construct primed only once. model, but also for appreciating
Given this, Donald's behaviors a significant characteristic of
should now be categorized in accessibility - its additive nature.
terms of the frequently primed What the Higgins et al. (1985)
construct and Bargh et al. (1988) studies
The synapse model, then, demonstrated was that the
predicts a reversal over time: accessibility of a construct lasted
recent priming dominating longer when its source was
categorization after a brief delay, frequent priming or chronic
and frequent priming accessibility than when its source
dominating after a long delay. was just recent priming.
Again, unusual in science, I Moreover, the comparable
telephoned Bob Wyer, described findings in these two sets of
the final design, and asked him studies demonstrated that
whether he agreed with the accessibility from chronic
competing predictions. He did, accessibility functioned like
which made us happy and accessibility from frequent
grateful, and we could then pro- priming. Together, this suggests
ceed with the study. The results that combining different sources
of the study supported the of accessibility would heighten
predictions of the synapse model accessibility and make it last
rather than the storage bin longer. It was as if you could
model (see Higgins et al.. 1985), combine Bruner's expectancy
and this recency- frequency source and his need source and
reversal effect over time was make accessibility even stronger
replicated by Lombardi et al. - something which had never
(1987). The same team later been suggested. Was
conducted a conceptual accessibility additive in this way?
replication substituting chronic If it were, then people could not
accessibility for frequent priming, possibly know where a
construct's current level of about a target person "Sue" who
accessibility comes from - how displayed behaviors which pilot
much from chronic accessibility testing had shown were
and how much from priming (an extremely vague (i.e., they did
"aboutness" problem; see not elicit spontaneous
impressions
Higgins, 1998b).HANDBOOK OF THEORIES OF SOCIAL
86 PSYCHOLOGY that Sue was
conceited). The participants
were simply asked to give their
impression of the target person.
ADDITIVITY IN ACCESSIBILITY Like the pilot participants, even
those experimental participants
The storage bin model does not who were both recently and
predict addi- tivity of accessible frequently primed and had only
sources. Instead, the accessibility a short delay before judging Sue
of a construct from frequent did not characterize her as being
priming or from chronic conceited. Nothing happened
accessibility simply increases the with this extremely vague input,
likelihood that the construct will with one exception. For those
have been activated recently participants who had relatively
and then placed on top of the high levels of chronic
bin. That is, multiple sources accessibility for the construct
simply increase the likelihood of "conceited," suddenly Sue
obtaining an effect of recent appeared to be conceited. And
priming. But there is evidence the higher the participant's level
that accessibility is additive of chronic accessibility for
(Bargh et al., 1986; Higgins and "conceited," the stronger their
Brendl, 1995). And this evidence impressions that Sue was con-
includes a demonstration by ceited were. Compared to the
Higgins and Brendl (1995) of an other experimental participants
additivity effect on intensity of and the pilot participants, it was
judgment from different levels as if these participants were
of chronic accessibility hallucinating - they were seeing
combined with a short delay something that wasn't there.
after recent priming plus prior The strength of this additivity
frequent priming (two additional effect was, once again,
times) of the same recently disturbing in its implications,
primed construct. The condition which I discuss later in the
of frequent priming plus recent section on "Applicability to
priming with short delay should Social Issues."
itself have placed the construct
on top of the storage bin. From
the perspective of the storage
bin model, an additional factor ASSIMILATION VERSUS CONTRAST
of varying levels of chronic EFFECTS AND THE PRINCIPLE OF
accessibility should not matter JUDGED USABILITY
much, but in fact it mattered a
lot. The additivity effect means that it
Higgins and Brendl (1995) is not possible for anyone to
used a revised version of the know where the current level of a
standard measure of chronic constructs accessibility is coming
accessibility described earlier from. It could be from recent
which now took into account priming, frequent priming,
both primacy of output and chronic accessibility, or any
frequency of output in order to combination of these. This makes
distinguish different levels of it difficult - indeed, impossible -
chronic accessibility rather than to know how much accessibility
just chronic versus nonchronic. we should correct for if we
Participants with varying levels believe that recent priming might
of chronic accessibility for the bias our current judgments. What
construct "conceited" were (or happens when people do try to
were not) both frequently and conrect for potential bias from
recently primed with "conceit'd" priming? This became another
and then immediately read major issue in the next
generation of knowledge activated construct is used or
activation theory. not.
The phenomenon of correcting Judged usability - which need
for bias from priming was first not be a conscious process - can
introduced by Martin (1986). be a rather subtle process. The
What was highlighted early on Higgins and Brendl (1995) study,
was that the priming event itself for example, also had another
ACCESSIBILITY THEORY 87
was an episodic event that could condition with the usual
be remembered later at the time ambiguous stimulus, in addition
that the judgment of the target to the condition with the vague
information was to be made (see stimulus. For the ambiguous
Lombardi et al., 1987). Because stimulus, the usual assimilation
the priming event itself was effect of priming was found
irrelevant to what the target was when participants were not
like, it would be inappropriate for aware of the priming event. The
it to influence the judgment of question was, what would
the target. As I noted earlier, it is happen when participants were
neither reasonable nor beneficial aware of the priming event?
for incidental priming to affect What the study found was that
judgment. Naturally, then, among these participants there
people would be motivated to was still an assimilation effect as
correct for this possible source of a function ol chronic accessibility
bias. Unfortunately, it is - the stronger the chronic
impossible to calibrate exactly accessibility, the greater the
how much accessibility to correct assimilation effect What this
for and people often over suggests is that when overall
correct. This produces a contrast accessibility is higher than what
effect where the target is not would be expected from the
only not judged in terms of the priming event alone (i.e., higher
primed construct but it is judged because the level of accessibility
in terms of the opposite, derives from chronic accessibility
competing construct, as when and not just priming), then
someone primed with people are more likely to judge
"persistent" then judges Donald the accessible knowledge as
to be "stubborn." Notice the being usable and less in need of
correction is an overcorrection correction even when they are
because the original ambiguous aware of the priming event.
information is neither just
persistent nor just stubborn.
The conditions that produce KNOWLEDGE ACTIVATION:
the standard assimilation effect ACCESSIBILITY AND APPLICABILITY
of priming versus a contrast
effect of priming have been WORKING TOGETHER
studied extensively (for reviews,
see Higgins, 1996; Mussweiler, What determines whether stored
2003). Early on, knowledge knowledge is activated?
activation theory emphasized the According to knowledge activa-
principle of judged usability to tion theory, both the
account for these effects accessibility of stored knowledge
(Higgins, 1996). Just bccause a and its applicability to an input
construct is activated does not determine whether stored
mean that it will necessarily be knowledge is activated, where
used subsequently to process applicability refers to the
input information. The construct amount of overlap between the
could be judged to be irrelevant features of stored knowledge
to use or judged to be inap- and the attended features of the
propriate to use, as in the input. Accessibility and
example above. Thus, the factors applicability work together to
that determine whether a activate knowledge according to
construct is activated must be a compensation rule: the greater
distinguished from the factors the accessibility of stored
that determine whether an knowledge, the less applicability
is needed for knowledge activa-
tion to occur, and the greater KNOWLEDGE ACTIVATION THEORY:
the applicability, the less THE ROLE OF MOTIVATION
accessibility is needed for
knowledge activation to occur. When I began doing research on
The first half of this priming and accessibility, I
compensation
88 HANDBOOK OF THEORIESis
rule thought
OF SOCIAL of it as part of cognitive
PSYCHOLOGY
demonstrated in he Higgins psychology. As I discussed
and Brendl (1995) study earlier, it began as part of work
described above in whtch strong that I was doing in
chronic accessibility of the psycholinguistics, and then later
construct "conceited" increased I extended it to impression
the likelihood that the vague formation. To me, this became a
input, which was input for which cognitive psychology/social
the construct "conceited" had psychology interface, the "social
very low applicability, would be cognition" that I had been
categorized in terms of the advised to pursue several years
primed construct "conceited." before. But this social cognition
To appreciate the second half of was grounded in cognitive
the compensation rule, the psychology. It was part of the
difference between vague, information processlytizing that I
ambiguous, and unambiguous have described in an earlier
input information needs to be paper with John Bargh (Higgins
appreciated (Higgins, 1996). and Bargh, 1987). Perhaps the
Vague versus ambiguous biggest change that has
versus unambiguous input occurred for me over the last ten
information concerns years - and, I believe, for others
applicability. Input, such as a as well - is to rethink the role of
behavioral description, is vague motivation in knowledge
when no stored construct has activation principles.
more than weak applicability to
it. Input is ambiguous when
there are least two alternative IMPORTANCE - ACCESSIBILITY
constructs with moderate to
strong applicability to it - usually Some relation between
two alternatives with strong accessibility and importance has
applicability in most past studies. been recognized for a long time.
Input is unambiguous when For Bruner (1957), current needs
there is only one construct that such as hunger or poverty were
is moderately or strongly appli- postulated as increasing the
cable to it. To return to the accessibility of need-related
second half of the compensation objects such as food or coins
rule, with unambiguous input (see also Higgins. 1981, for a
little accessibility is needed for discussion of motivation as a
knowledge activation because source of accessibility). In my
applicability is high and there self- discrepancy theory of how
are no competing alternatives. socialization creates strong ideal
With ambiguous input, more and ought self-guides in children
accessibility of one of the (Higgins. 1989, 1991; see also my
alternatives is needed in order Regulatory Focus chapter in this
for that alternative to win over volume), the motivational
the competition. With vague importance of a caretaker's
input, much more accessibility is response to a child's behavior
needed because the applicability was emphasized as a frctor
is so low. Indeed, in the Higgins contributing to a child acquiring
and Brendl (1995) study, even highly accessible (i.e., strong)
recent and frequent priming ideal and ought self-guides. This
together were not enough to developmental theory expanded
produce a categorization effect the "accessibility = importance"
without the addition of chronic proposal beyond current need
accessibility. For an ambiguous satisfaction to trait-related
input, in contrast, recent priming constructs made important from
is sufficient to produce a past interactions with significant
categorization effect.
others (for later work building on absence of any elderly person.
this proposal, see Shah, 2003). (Priming effects on other kinds
Later, this general "accessibility of behavior had been reported
= importance" proposal provided earlier [Carver et al., 1983;
the conceptual rationale for Higgins and Chaires, 1980], but
using individuals' response times under conditions where the
in reporting their personal ideal THEORY
ACCESSIBILITY
current situation also
89
and ought goals as a measure of contributed to what happened
the relative importance of the behaviorally.)
promotion system (ideals) or the The "ideo-motor action" notion
prevention system (oughts) in as proposed by James
their self-regulation (Higgins et (2007/1890) is that activation of
al., 1997).. It was assumed, as a bare idea can be sufficient to
before, that stored trait- related prompt action: "We think the act,
constructs which were important and it is done" (see James,
for self-regulation, such as being 2007/1890: 522). For James, the
"friendly." "athletic," or idea prompted action relatively
"hardworking." would have high immediately. For Bargh, there
chronic accessibility. G'ven this, it could be a delay between con-
was now assumed that struct activation and carrying out
trait-related constructs that had a construct- related action. This
high chronic accessibility (as greatly increases the significance
measured by response times for of the ideo-motor action pro-
reporting them) must be posal. It is as if the construct
important for self-regulation. activated by priming becomes an
Subsequent studies testing the intent to directly express the
effects of promotion and
prevention strength (i.e., the construct in action. By becoming
effects of highly accessible ideals "quasi-need" it where
an intent, is like Lewin's
and oughts) on emotions, tension created that there is a
cannot be
decision making, and
performance supported this reduced until an action fulfills
assumption (see Higgins, 1998a; the quasi-need (see Lewin, 1951).
Higgins et al., 1997; sec also my Thus, the tension can remain for
Regulatory Focus chapter in this a considerable period until the
volume). construct-related action is
expressed.
This James-Bargh "ideo-motor
action" notion of direct
CONSTRUCT ACTIVATION FROM expression in action of an
PRIMING = ACTION activated construct, where
activation can occur from
During the same period that this subliminal priming, inspired
"accessibility = importance" countless studies after the
proposal was being developed seminal Bargh et al. (1997)
and tested, another perspective research. Construct activation
on the role of motivation in from priming was shown to
knowledge activation was also affect all kinds of behaviors, from
being developed and tested. aggressive behavior to
John Bargh, inspired by James' achievement behavior to
(2007/1890) "ideo-motor action" cooperative behavior (for
notion, proposed that priming a reviews, see Bargh, 2005;
stored construct would activate Dijksterhuis and Bargh, 2001).
that construct and its associated What fascinated researchers was
behaviors, such as priming the implication that behavior
"elderly" would activate "walks could be determined by
slowly," which would result in situational priming occurring
direct expression of the activated outside of a person s awareness
behavior. Indeed, in a now clas- that activated a construct which
sic study, Bargh et al. (1996) did then "needed" to be behaviorally
find that people walked slowly expressed - "bypassing the will"
down a hallway after being (Bargh, 2005). The behavior was
primed with "elderly" - in the
not directed by a person's tasks, and again found
preferences or desires or chronic pragmatic behavioral choices
goals but by construct activation rather than mimicry or direct
itself, by the activated idea itself. expression of the stereotyped
behavior; for example, loafing on
90 a verbal
HANDBOOK OF THEORIES OF SOCIAL task when preparing to
PSYCHOLOGY

CONSTRUCT ACTIVATION FROM


working on that task with a
female team partner. What these
PRIMING + VALENCE = and the Cesario et al. (2006)
GOAL-DIRECTED ACTION studies show is that activation of
Over the last five years or so, it categorical behavior, even from
has become increasingly clear subliminal necessarily
priming, c'oes not
result in direct
that, generally speaking, expression of that behavior.
construct activation from priming Instead, people use the activated
is not sufficient, by itself, to information to prepare for future
determine action. It is not the
case that we think the act and it interaction with a category
is done. A construct-related member, and the behavior they
behavior activated by priming prepare depends on a variety of
need not result in the direct factors, including their attitude
expression of that behavior. toward category members (see
Indeed, a behavior opposite to Cesario et al., 2006 for a fuller
the primed behavior can be discussion of this "motivated
expressed depending on the preparation to interact"
valence of the activated proposal).
construct. It seems, then, that activating a
To illustrate, consider a study stored idea, even subliminally,
by Cesario et al. (2006) which does not necessarily produce
replicated the classic "elderly" direct expression of the
study of Bargh et al. (1997). activated behavior. It can
Cesario et al. (2006) argued that produce the opposite behavior.
walking slowly would only make Indeed, there is evidence that
strategic sense for individuals whether construct activation
who like the elderly because from priming even affects
they would walk slowly in order subsequent construct-related
to interact with them better. behavior can depend on
Some of the participants in the whether value is attached to the
Cesario et al. (2006) study liked activated construct. If we think
the elderly, and when the of an activated construct as a
concept "elderly" was sublimi- state, such us the state of
nally primed with pictures of achievement or the state of
elderly men, these participants cooperation, then attaching
afterward walked slowly down positive value to that state,
the hallway (in the absence of either momentarily or
any elderly person) - jus? as chronically, transforms it into a
Bargh et al. (1997) had found. desired end-state, that is, a goal
But for those participants who to be fulfilled. If the current state
disliked the elderly, they walked of a person is discrepant from
quickly down the hallway after this desired end-state, then the
"elderly" was sub- liminally person is motivated to take
primed - as if they were trying to action to attain the desired
avoid interaction with an elderly end-state (see Custers and Aarts,
person (even though there was, 2005). Thus, the enacted
again, no elderly person behavior related to a primed
present). construct is behavior directed
In earlier studies, Plaks and toward attaining a personal goal.
Higgins (2000) activated It becomes comparable to the
stereotypes for a teamwork behavior directed toward
partner that were associated fulfilling personal ideals and
with tasx performance, such as oughts that have high chronic
females being good on verbal accessibility - chronically
accessible goals that can uncon-
sciously direct behavior (Higgins, cognitive variable that can be
1998a). influenced by motivational
There is now substantial factors. But more and more
evidence that behavioral effects accessibility itself is becoming a
of construct activation from motivational variable; or. more
priming vary as a function of the accurately, a motivated cognition
value (momentary or ACCESSIBILITY variable. What is becoming
chronic) THEORY 91
that is attached to the construct increasingly clear is that accessi-
as an end-state (e.g., Ferguson bility depends on motivation.
and Bargh, 2004; for reviews, see Accessibility increases and
Custers and Aarts, 2005; Eitaro decreases as a function of its
and Higgins, 2010). There is relevance to current
evidence, for example, that self-regulation.
participants who are deprived of What determines the relevance
water will drink more when the of accessibility in current
construct "drink" is primed than self-regulation? If accessibility
when it is not primed, but levels serve current
priming has no effect when self-regulatory concerns, then
participants are not water we would expect the accessibility
deprived (e.g.. Strahan et al., of goal-related constructs to be
2002). There is also evidence that higher when a goal is higher in
when subliminal priming importance. Classic determinants
increases the positivity of of a goal's importance are the
goal-supporting abjects, it does value of goal attainment and the
so most strongly for individuals likelihood of goal attainment.
for whom the goal currently is Does the accessibility of a
more important (Ferguson, 2008). goal-related construct increase
as the value and likelihood of
goal attainment increase?
Studies by Fbrster et al. (2005)
IMPORTANCE = ACCESSIBILITY indicate that indeed it does.
REVISTED: ACCESSIBILITY AS Another classic determinant of a
RELEVANCE goal's importance is goal fulfill-
ment or completion. The
According to the traditional importance of a goal decreases
version of the "importance = after it is completed. Does the
accessibility" notion, when there accessibility of a goal-related
is a goal (or need), goal-related construct decrease after the goal
constructs will be activated, is completed? There is evidence
which will make these constructs that this also happens (e.g.,
accessible. Construct accessibility Forster et al., 2005). Notably,
depends on the frequency and there is also evidence that goal
recency of the activation and the completion inhibits the
time since the last activation. accessibility of goal-related
Motivation affects the frequency constructs rather than just
and recency of activation. It does suppressing construct expression
not play a role, postactivation, in (see Liberman et al., 2007). The
accessibility changes over time. importance of a goal also
Motivation, such as the need for decreases if it is fulfilled through
accuracy or the need to avoid a substitutable task (Lewin,
closure, can still affect judgment 1951). Does the accessibility of a
postactivation (e.g.. Ford and goal-related construct decrease
Kniglanski. 1995). but this is after the goal is fulfilled through
through affecting the use of the a substitutable task? There is
accessible construct rather than evidence for this as well (Cesario
the accessibility of the construct et al., 2006).
perse. The decrease in accessibility
This traditional perspective on following goal completion which
the relation between importance I described above can be
and accessibility did not change understood in functional terms.
until very recently. Throughout Generally speaking, a completed
the twentieth century, goal that remains accessible
accessibility remained basically a could interfere with subsequent
goal pursuit. The more important These predicted opposite
the goal, the more the risk of patterns of accessibility decay
interference from goal- related were found for
constructs remaining accessible. promotion-focused and
This leads to the intriguing prevention-focused individual".
prediction
92 that theOF THEORIES
HANDBOOK more OF SOCIAL The notion of accessibility as
PSYCHOLOGY
important a goal, the more motivational relevance has been
goal-related constructs should recently developed more fully
decrease following goal and formally in a paper by Eitam
completion. The Fdrster et al. and Higgins (2010). In a new
(2005) studies supported this framework called Relevance of a
prediction as well. Representation (or ROAR for
But is it always the case that short), it is proposed that not all
right after goal completion, the stimulated representations
accessibility of goal- related become active in the sense of
constructs quickly decreases? being functionally available to
Might such accessibility decay mental processes such as
also depend on motivational categorization, planning, and
relevance? Indeed, there is evi- effort allocation that impact
dence for this from a study by judgment and behavior. ROAR
Hedberg and Higgins (in press; proposes that a representation's
see also Hedberg, 2007). Using impact on judgment and
the paradigm of Fdrster et al. behavior over time does not
(2005), the participants' task was derive from the maintenance of
to view a series of pictures and the representation's accessibility
find when a picture of a pair of per se. Instead, the effects
scissors was immediately depend on the continuing
followed by a picture of relevance of the representation.
eyeglasses. Once this goal was Whereas the traditional notion is
completed, the accessibility of that priming produces
constructs related to accessibility that then decays at
"eyeglasses" was measured using a certain rate as a function of
a lexical decision task that factors like frequency of
appeared at different post- priming, ROAR suggests that
completion delay times. Hedberg what changes oris maintained is
and Higgins (in press) predicted the motivational relevance of a
that the accessibility decay representation. This means that
function would be different for the likelihood that stimulation of
individuals with a strong a representation would produce
promotion focus on activation with judgmental and
accomplishment than for behavioral effects is
individuals with a strong independent of frequent or
prevention focus on security. In recent priming except for the
order to accomplish something effects that frequent or recent
new, promotion- focused priming can have on
individuals need to reduce the motivational relevance.
accessibility of "eyeglasses" in
order that this old construct will
not interfere with new accom-
plishments - precisely the kind of APPLICABILITY TO SOCIAL ISSUES
motivation discussed earlier. The
more individuals are People's evaluations and
promotion-focused, the faster decisions are influenced by the
should be the rate of accessibility accessibility of their attitudes,
decay. Prevention- focused beliefs, and past experiences (for
individuals, on the other hand, reviews, sec Fbrster and
want to maintain the status quo Uberman, 2007, Higgins, 1996).
until it is necessary to change. People's actions, from their
Thus, the more individuals are voting decisions to their choice
prevention-focused, the slower of activities, are influenced by
should be the rate of accessibility the accessibility of action-
decay - the opposite of related constructs (e.g.. Fazio,
promotion-focused individuals. 1989; Lau, 1989). This has
important implications for social
issues because the decisions
and actions associated with
accessible constructs

ACCESSIBILITY THEORY 93
.The
y fx
and-
not
include social discrimination and always my "burning issue." rega
hostile actions toward others. Accessibility does nor know rdi
What is troubling about the where it comes from. So w
relation between accessibility and A current level of accessibility gicall
action? If the current accessibility can be the result of any y
of a construct HANDBOOK
94 or goal for OFa SOCIAL
OF THEORIES combination
PSYCHOLOGY of recent situa- activ
person were related solely to its tional priming (after a short ati
present utility for that person, or delay or a long delay), frequent efits
to its accuracy in representing situational priming, and personal al
the world that person is facing, chronic accessibility. Knowledge wher
then there would not be a activation itself is even more e<
problem. What is troubling, complex because all of these of
however, is that this is not the sources of accessibility combine not
case. There can be sources of with applicability to a target that cou
accessibility that are independent can be ambiguous, vague, or ld,
Sr
of current utility or accuracy. This relatively unambiguous. A of a
fact raises two separate troubling person does not know where the t
issues: the issue of control and activation comes from. It is sho
the issue of truth. People want to impossible to calibrate uld
be effective in making something accurately the contributions of obj
happen - to be effective at these different sources. And the ecti
control. People also want to be dominant tendency of people is acc
effective at establishing what's to infer that the source of the essi
real, to be accurate, correct, and activation is the contribution of our
right - to be effective at truth the target, that is, that the s v
(Higgins, 2011). The results of activation is about the target's rem
priming studies raise questions stimulus features (the ain
regarding people's effectiveness "aboutness principle"; see all
at control and at truth. Higgins, 1998b). The Higgins and thin
Recently, the control problem way
has received the most attention, Brendl (1995) study
to i
inspired especially by the work of demonstrates
treat the target
this tendency to
as the source of is
John Bargh and his collaborators. activation - to perceive Sue as that
The issue is whether it is people pari
themselves who make things "conceited" despite the vague
happen, that is. who are in input when there is strong sot
charge, or whether instead they accessibility. Poor Sue was hardly sma
are directed (without their intent conceited, but she was judged as ll
or awareness) by situational such under conditions that wh
priming of goals and constructs. maximized accessibility (i.e., om
This is clearly an important issue frequent and recent priming with (Ech
with significant implications for a short delay plus high chronic te
social issues, such as controlling accessibility). ||1996;
behavioral discrimination and What does this say about the |j
stereotyping (e.g., Devine and truth of our judgments and Reali
Monteith, 1999). It should be evaluations (and memories)? t; i
noted, however, that the above What does it mean for our ability for a
discussion of motivational factors to be accurate, correct, veridical s
underlying accessibility effects (see also Kruglanski, 1989; jbilit
from priming offers some hope Popper, 1959)? Does this false ys
regarding the control problem. It "aboutness" from uncalibrated fund
suggests that individuals who arc sources of knowledge activation en enr
motivated, for example, to contribute to delusions and ev
behave nonprejudicial^ could do hallucinations, to false argu
so - even unconsciously. Indeed, eyewitness testimony, to m
there is research on individuals stereotypic and ethnocentric amo
with chronically acccssible evaluations, to the conviction nj
egalitarian beliefs that supports that others who disagree with evalu
this conclusion (Moskowitz et al., our beliefs must be either lying a
1999). or crazy? I believe that it does. It line?
If there is some hope for the is a serious problem. And this possi
control issue, what about the problem cannot be solved by l
truth issue? The truth issue was somehow ridding ourselves of Cdge
i
truth
Dri
;
the principles of knowledge
activation. After all, the same
principles underlie human
education, and learning. The
knowledge activation principles
are among the great trade-offs
of being human. They necessarily
ACCESSIBILITY THEORY 95
produce errors of judgment,
memory, decision making, and
behavior, while at the same time
they are a necessity if we are to
learn from experience.
They free us from the confines significance of the issue is
of the here- and -now, but it evident in the important role
comes with a costly downside that accessibility has been
regarding truth (Higgins, 2000). given in models of attitudes
So what can we do about it? and behavior (e.g., Ajzen and
96 We can't surgically remove
HANDBOOK the
OF THEORIES OF SOCIALSexton,
PSYCHOLOGY 1999; Fazio, 1990),
functioning of knowledge interpersonal relations (e.g..
activation principles without Andersen and Chen, 2002), and
losing the benefits along with motivated cognition more
the costs. Perhaps this is where generally (e.g., Kruglanski et al.,
other people come in - the 2006). In the theory of planned
importance of not being an behavior (see Ajzen
"island unto yourself." We and Sexton, 1999; see also the
could, for example, compare Planned Behavior chapter in this
our evaluation of a target to volume), for example, the
those of other people. This functioning of each of the major
should improve validity, sources of behavioral intentions
reliability, and objectivity (i.e., attitudes, norms, perceived
because other people's sources control) depends on what is
of accessibility are likely to be accessible. Thus, whether or not
different from ours while the beneficial health behaviors,
target's actual properties environmental behaviors,
remain constant (generally intergroup behaviors, and so on
speaking). Indeed, all things actually occur depends on what
being equal, this is probably a knowledgc-is accessible and
good way to reduce error. The activated when the behavioral
fly in the ointment is that choices are made. This has
people tend to engage in such profound implications for
comparisons with in-group interventions targeted at increas-
members - often a small ing beneficial behaviors.
number of significant others - Methods need to be devised that
with whom they want to create increase the likelihood that
a shared reality (Echterhoff et stored knowledge which
al., 2009; Hardin and Higgins, supports beneficial behavioral
1996; Higgins, 1992; see also intentions is accessible when the
the Shared Reality chapter in choices are actually being made.
this volume). By working | for a Interventions
shared reality, they bring their accessibility couldtargeted at
accessibility sources in line with tant for dealing withbesocial as impor-
issues
one another, thereby > as interventions targeted at
undermining the benefits of other contributing factor any to
having independ- ent behavioral intentions.
evaluations of a target. This is a
strong 7 argument in favor of
having true diversity among
individuals when a target is
being evaluated or REFERENCES
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bottom line? Introduce group congruence, and attitude-behavior correspondence. In
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edge activation principles on Press.
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ACCESSIBILITY THEORY 97