The Adversarial Mindset
Psychology, Public Policy & Law (American Psychological Association, 2020)
USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS20-6
83 Pages Posted: 6 May 2020
Date Written: April 10, 2020
Many social outcomes are reached by means of competitions between opposing actors. While the positive effects of competition are beyond dispute, this paper contends that competitive situations also trigger a particular psychological mindset that can distort contestants’ judgment and lead to suboptimal courses of action. The paper presents a theoretical framework that consists of a myside bias, by which people adopt a self-serving view of the competition, evaluate themselves favorably, and evaluate their counterpart unfavorably. The framework also proposes the construct of otherside bias, by which people impute to their counterparts distortions that are similar, but opposite, to their own. The combined effect of these biases is to fuel conflict-promoting behavior. Next, the paper presents two experiments designed to test this framework. Using minimalistic experimental treatments, we find that participants assigned to adversarial roles display the myside and otherside biases.
The primary objective of this paper is to offer a comprehensive account of the psychological mindset evoked by competitive situations. We integrate findings established across a variety of research fields into a unifying theoretical framework and demonstrate their joint impact on this important domain of human judgment and behavior. Second, we propose that coherence-based reasoning serves as the cognitive backbone of the framework, in that the array of judgments are intricately interconnected and organized in a coherence maximizing representational structure both within and between the myside and otherside biases. Third, we discuss the framework’s implications for a variety of legal domains, including negotiations, litigation, expert testimony, and police investigations.
Keywords: adversarialism, myside bias, otherside bias, coherence effect
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