Searching for answers in an uncertain world: meaning threats lead to increased working memory capacity

Heine, Steven J and Randles, Daniel and Benjamin, Rachele and Martens, Jason P (2018) Searching for answers in an uncertain world: meaning threats lead to increased working memory capacity. PLOS ONE, 13 (10). e0204640. ISSN 1932-6203

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The Meaning Maintenance Model posits that individuals seek to resolve uncertainty by searching for patterns in the environment, yet little is known about how this is accomplished. Four studies investigated whether uncertainty has an effect on people’s cognitive functioning. In particular, we investigated whether meaning threats lead to increased working memory capacity. In each study, we exposed participants to either an uncertain stimulus used to threaten meaning in past studies, or a control stimulus. Participants then completed a working memory measure, where they either had to recall lists of words (Studies 1, 2), or strings of digits (Studies 3, 4). We used both a frequentist approach and Bayesian analysis to evaluate our findings. Across the four studies, we find a small but consistent effect, where participants in the meaning threat condition show improved performance on the working memory tasks. Overall, our findings were consistent with the hypothesis that working memory capacity increases when people experience a meaning threat, which may help to explain improved pattern recognition. Additionally, our results highlight the value of using a Bayesian analytic approach, particularly when studying phenomena with high variance.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number:
19 September 2018Accepted
3 October 2018Published Online
Subjects: CAH04 - psychology > CAH04-01 - psychology > CAH04-01-01 - psychology (non-specific)
Divisions: Faculty of Business, Law and Social Sciences > College of Psychology
Depositing User: Jason Martens
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2018 14:04
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2024 13:03

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