Automaticity in Conversations: A Reexamination of the Mindlessness Hypothesis

  • Kitayama S
  • Burnstein E
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Abstract

The automatic processing of an ordinary conversation, or what has been called mindlessness (Langer, Blank, & Chanowitz, 1978), implies that comprehension of conversation is based almost entirely on generic knowledge. As a consequence, memory of what was said will contain typical events but virtually no idiosyncratic information. To test this prediction, we conducted a field experiment in which college students were individually approached and asked to perform a small favor. Attention was either induced or allowed to operate naturally. Specifically, half of the students were warned beforehand of the forthcoming request and told to pay close attention and half were not forewarned. As expected, regardless of the condition, the generic features of the request were well remembered. On the other hand, memory for idiosyncratic information, namely, specific words used in the request, decreased when the structure of the conversation conformed to cultural conventions and when attention to the request was not induced. Findings cast doubt on the perfect automaticity suggested by the mindlessness hypothesis (Langer et al., 1978). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2000 APA, all rights reserved)

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Authors

  • Shinobu Kitayama

  • Eugene Burnstein

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