The Motivational Processes of Sense-Making

29 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2021 Last revised: 11 May 2021

See all articles by Zachary Wojtowicz

Zachary Wojtowicz

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Nick Chater

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School

George Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Date Written: February 15, 2021

Abstract

In this chapter we discuss the psychological function of “the drive for sense-making,” or our innate desire to make sense of the world. We start by discussing why sense-making generates a drive, similar to those associated with the primary reinforcers of food, water, sleep, sex, shelter, and air. In our account, the drive for sense-making fills a critical gap in purely goal-oriented cognition by motivating us to continue investing in knowledge even when we cannot foresee exactly how it will benefit us. We then examine three different factors that shape the particular form sense-making takes: (1) the practical utility of holding accurate beliefs for attaining concrete goals, (2) the motivational significance of some beliefs, which generates a desire to make sense of the world in a way that feels good, and (3) the impact of computational limitations on the sense-making process, especially our limited ability to explicitly predict what information will turn out to be useful. Finally, we turn our attention to how these factors help to explain aberrant sense-making phenomena such as conspiracy theories, science denial, and political polarization.

Keywords: beliefs, information, motivation, affect

JEL Classification: D80, D83, D03

Suggested Citation

Wojtowicz, Zachary and Chater, Nick and Loewenstein, George F., The Motivational Processes of Sense-Making (February 15, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3785708 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3785708

Zachary Wojtowicz

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Nick Chater

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School ( email )

Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.wbs.ac.uk/about/person/nick-chater/

George F. Loewenstein (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8787 (Phone)
412-268-6938 (Fax)

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