Chapter 8: Need for cognition – From Fear to Flow


Need for cognition

In the next chapters, personal characteristics which fall outside the five-factor model will be discussed (Block, 1995). These traits are need for cognition (Cacioppo et al., 1996), positive emotionality, self-efficacy (Bandura, 2001), self-confidence and locus of control (Rotter, 1966). In addition, two central models of information behavior which have been linked to individual differences in specific situations will be presented, namely the coping styles of monitoring and blunting (Miller, 1987), and uncertainty orientation (Sorrentino et al., 2003).

Persons with a high need for cognition take pleasure in reasoning, problem-solving and hard thinking (Cacioppo et al., 1996). They are curious, open to new ideas and want to get to the bottom of things instead of relying on more superficial cues. If they do not encounter enough intellectual challenges in daily life, they purposively seek them out. One way to challenge the mind is to learn new things, and for this you need information. High need for cognition has consequently been related to vigorous information seeking (Schaninger and Sciglimpaglia, 1981; Verplanken et al., 1992; overview in Cacioppo et al., 1996). Persons with a high need for cognition are active online, where they look for everything from product information and news to educational material (Das et al., 2003; Kaynar and Amichai-Hamburger, 2008; Tuten and Bosnjak, 2001). They are also focused and curious information seekers who are particularly likely to experience flow (Li and Browne, 2006). Their enjoyment and engagement make them forget the world around them and completely indulge in the search task. For the optimal experience, not only content matters, but also appearance. Persons with a high need for cognition would in this context prefer a verbal rather than a visual presentation. Internet sites with predominantly verbal content are more appealing to them than sites with extensive visual design (Martin et al., 2005).

In decision-making, persons with a high need for cognition are deliberate and careful, and consult more information than those with a low need for cognition (Levin et al., 2000). They also expend effort on seeking information, and process it systematically and thoroughly (Verplanken et al., 1992). Their preferred messages are straightforward and clearly articulated, providing a profound and exhaustive description of a topic, including facts, details and statistics (Cacioppo et al., 1996). As an example, those with a high need for cognition prefer to follow news in newspapers and printed media rather than on TV (Ferguson et al., 1985). Intellectual people seek information to expand their thinking, so they are particularly drawn to complex and intriguing material. They are resourceful in organizing, elaborating on and evaluating information (Cacioppo et al., 1983). Those with a high need for cognition are thus thorough and efficient information seekers who do not shy away from effort even in contexts where it is not necessary (Bailey, 1997). Those with less need for cognition would rather take short-cuts in their thinking processes. They may for instance turn to material that can be easily processed, or look to authorities for answers instead of thinking matters through by themselves (Cacioppo et al., 1996).

Need for cognition has been positively linked to openness to experience and conscientiousness, but negatively correlated with negative affectivity (Sadowski and Cogburn, 1997). One way to conceptualize need for cognition is to regard it as a combination of the intellectual facets of openness and the self-control, logical thinking, prudence and introversion facets of conscientiousness (Cacioppo et al., 1996). The link between need for cognition and openness likely lies in the enjoyment of intellectual challenges and effort that both traits share. The link to conscientiousness again speaks to the dedication and persistence typical for both characteristics. High need for cognition is thus a multifaceted trait that pulls towards intellectual effort.