The need for cognition (NFC), in psychology, is a personality variable reflecting the extent to which individuals are inclined towards effortful cognitive activities.
Need for cognition has been variously defined as "a need to structure relevant situations in meaningful, integrated ways" and "a need to understand and make reasonable the experiential world". Higher NFC is associated with increased appreciation of debate, idea evaluation, and problem solving. Those with a high need for cognition may be inclined towards high elaboration. Those with a lower need for cognition may display opposite tendencies, and may process information more heuristically, often through low elaboration.
Need for cognition is closely related to the five factor model domain openness to experience, typical intellectual engagement, and epistemic curiosity.
People high in the need for cognition are more likely to form their attitudes by paying close attention to relevant arguments (i.e., via the central route to persuasion), whereas people low in the need for cognition are more likely to rely on peripheral cues, such as how attractive or credible a speaker is. People low in need for cognition are also more likely to rely on stereotypes alone in judging other people than those high in need for cognition.
Psychological research on the need for cognition has been conducted using self-report tests, where research participants answered a series of statements such as "I prefer my life to be filled with puzzles that I must solve" and were scored on how much they felt the statements represented them. The results have suggested that people who are high in the need for cognition scale score slightly higher in verbal intelligence tests but no higher in abstract reasoning tests.
Research has concluded that individuals high in NFC are less likely to attribute higher social desirability to more attractive individuals or to mates. College students high in NFC report higher life satisfaction.
NFC is associated with the amount of thought that goes into making a decision. Both high and low levels of the trait may be associated with particular biases in judgment. People low in need for cognition tend to show more bias when this bias is due to relying on mental shortcuts, that is, heuristic biases. People high in this trait tend to be more affected by biases that are generated by effortful thought.
A bias associated with low need for cognition is the halo effect, a phenomenon in which attractive or likeable people tend to be rated as superior on a variety of other characteristics (e.g., intelligence). People low on NFC are more likely to rely on stereotypes rather than individual features of a person when rating a novel target. People high in NFC still show a halo effect however, albeit a smaller one, perhaps because their thoughts about the target are still biased by the target's attractiveness.
High need for cognition is associated with a greater susceptibility to the creation of false memories associated with certain learning tasks. In a commonly used research paradigm, participants are asked to memorise a list of related words. Recognition is tested by having them pick out learned words from a set of studied and non-studied items. Certain non-studied items are conceptually related to studied items (e.g., chair if the original list contained table and legs). People high in NFC are more likely to show false memory for these lures, due to their greater elaboration of learned items in memory as they are more likely to think of semantically related (but non-studied) items.
BIG FIVE PSYCHOMETRICS
- NFC has been found to relate positively to openness to experience most strongly and to a more moderate extent to conscientiousness, particularly the competence and achievement striving facets, and to relate inversely to an extent to neuroticism.
- NFC has been related negatively to harm avoidance and positively to persistence and was unrelated to reward dependence or novelty seeking.
- NFC has only a weak positive relationship with sensation seeking, specifically a weak correlation with the boredom susceptibility subscale but no relationship to the other subscales.
- NFC has a modest inverse correlation with negative affect. NFC had no significant correlation with a broad measure of overall positive affect, although it was positively correlated with feelings of activity, interest, and alertness.
- NFC has been positively related to other, theoretically unrelated, personality characteristics such as self-esteem, masculine sex-role attitudes, and absorption.
- NFC is negatively related to social anxiety (more strongly in females than males).
- It has been speculated that people who more carefully analyse their world feel a greater sense of mastery, and hence greater self-esteem, although it is also possible that higher self-esteem may lead to greater motivation to engage in thinking.
- NFC may be related to masculine sex-role due to the stereotype associating masculinity with rationality.
- Regarding absorption, people high in NFC may find it easier to devote their attentional processes exclusively to intellectual tasks.
- Regarding social anxiety, it is possible that greater attention to cognitive activity may be associated with reduced attention to social cues associated with negative evaluation.
- NFC is positively related to stimulation, self-direction, and universalism values, and negatively to security and conformity values.