By the numbers: Structure-seeking individuals prefer quantitative over qualitative representations of personal value to compensate for the threat of unclear performance contingencies

Zachary K. Rothschild, Mark J. Landau, Daniel Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

What combination of dispositional and situational factors leads people to represent their personal value in quantitative terms (e.g., salary) rather than qualitative terms (e.g., virtue)? Integrating research on quantitative information seeking, dispositional epistemic motivation, and learned helplessness, the current article hypothesized that individuals high, but not low, in uncertainty avoidance (measured with the Personal Need for Structure Scale [PNS]) would prefer quantitative (over qualitative) value representations to compensate for the diminished self-esteem certainty caused by exposure to unclear performance contingencies. Accordingly, in Study 1 high-PNS participants exposed to unclear (vs. clear) performance contingencies in one domain (visual intelligence) preferred a quantitative value representation in another domain (verbal intelligence). Study 2 showed that this effect is mediated by self-esteem certainty, not self-esteem level. Study 3 included a failure feedback condition to further isolate the role of epistemic motivation, as distinct from self-enhancement motivation, in driving the tendency to quantify personal value.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1508-1521
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and social psychology bulletin
Volume37
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • defensive processes
  • information seeking
  • motivation and performance
  • self-esteem
  • self-evaluation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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