Encoding under Trust and Distrust: The Spontaneous Activation of Incongruent Cognitions

Yaacov Schul*, Ruth Mayo, Eugene Burnstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Past studies of strategic thinking have shown that the encoding of the message information becomes more complex under distrust. Receivers process the information as if they are trying to protect themselves from being misled by testing alternative potential interpretations. The present study investigates the possibility that when people are mistrustful they spontaneously activate associations that are incongruent with the given message. Findings from 3 experiments suggest that, even when the distrust is unrelated in any meaningful way to the message and even when receivers are unable to prepare a strategic response, the cognitive system reacts to distrust by automatically inducing the consideration of incongruent associations-it seems designed to ask, "and what if the information were false?" The theoretical implications of the results for theories of social perception and persuasion are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)668-679
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2004


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