Testing hypotheses about other people: The use of historical knowledge

Mark Snyder, Nancy Cantor

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125 Scopus citations


Three experiments were conducted to examine the use of historical knowledge to test contemporary hypotheses about the personal attributes of other people. In the first and second experiments, participants read an extensive account of events in one week of the life of a woman named Jane. Two days later, they used this previously learned information to test hypotheses about Jane's suitability for one of two jobs: either the rather extraverted job of real estate salesperson, or the rather introverted job of research librarian. In their hypothesis-testing activities, participants first reported all those previously learned facts that they regarded as relevant to assessing Jane's suitability for the job under consideration, and then reported their judgments of her job suitability. Participants reported greater amounts of hypothesis-confirming than hypothesis-disconfirming factual material. Moreover, having tested hypotheses about Jane's suitability for one job, participants judged her to be better suited for that job than for the other job. In the third experiment, participants framed hypotheses for assessing job suitability and defined the task of testing these hypotheses. Participants framed hypotheses in terms of those attributes whose presence would confirm the hypotheses and defined the hypothesis-testing task as one of preferentially collecting hypothesis-confirming evidence. The nature and consequences of confirmatory hypothesis-testing strategies are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-342
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1979

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research and the preparation of this manuscript were supported in part by National Science Foundation Grants SOC 75-13872, “Cognition and Behavior: When Belief Creates Reality,” and BNS 77-11346, “From Belief to Reality: Cognitive, Behavioral, and Interpersonal Consequences of Social Perception,” to Mark Snyder. For their assistance in the empirical phases of these investigations, we thank Geoffrey Fong (Experiment 1) and Steven Gangestad (Experiments 2 and 3). Requests for reprints and copies of the experimental materials should be sent to Mark Snyder, Laboratory for Research in Social Relations, Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455.


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