When self-interest makes a difference: The role of construct accessibility in political reasoning

Jason Young, Cynthia J. Thomsen, Eugene Borgida, John L. Sullivan, John H. Aldrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Previous research has generally shown that self-interest is less influential than symbolic beliefs in determining people's policy preferences. The present study examined the hypothesis that one reason why self-interest may not exert a strong influence on political reasoning is that it is less cognitively accessible than other applicable constructs. We examined the influence of both individual differences in issue-relevant experience and the priming of self-interest on political judgments and reasoning. Subjects (N = 66) were initially classified as having either a high or low level of experience for each of two issues (environmental pollution and social service spending). Several weeks later, subjects participated in two ostensibly unrelated studies. The first conveyed the priming manipulation; the second involved completing questionnaires to assess subjects' opinions about hypothetical legislative proposals and their reasoning with respect to ambiguous political scenarios. We predicted that priming would result in greater self-interested reasoning about issues, regardless of the individual's level of experience. We also expected individuals with more extensive issue-related experience to consider their self-interest to a greater extent when reasoning about political issues. Priming, in turn, was expected to lead to different policy preferences among low and high experience subjects, since different issue positions would best serve the self-interests of these two groups. These predictions were generally supported. The implications of these findings for theory and research on social and political cognition are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-296
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1991


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