Priming and communication: Social determinants of information use in judgments of life satisfaction



Two experiments examined the effects of answering a question about a specific component of life satisfaction on respondents' assessment of their overall satisfaction with life. The results suggest that the use of primed information in forming subsequent judgments is determined by Grice's conversational norms. In general, answering the specific question increases the accessibility of information relevant to that question. However, the effect that this has on the general judgment depends on the way in which the two questions are presented. When the two questions are merely placed in sequence without a conversational context, the answer to the subsequent general question is based in part on the primed specific information. As a result, the answer to the general question becomes similar to that for the specific question (i.e. assimilation). However, this does not occur when the two questions are placed in a communication context. Conversational rules dictate that communicators should be informative and should avoid redundancy in their answers. Therefore, when a specific and a general question are perceived as belonging to the same conversational context, the information on which the answer to the specific question was based is disregarded when answering the general one. This attenuates the assimilation effect. The conditions under which these different processes occur are identified and experimentally manipulated, and the implications of these findings for models of information use in judgment are discussed.