Date of Original Version
Abstract or Table of Contents
After choosing, people exhibit a spreading of alternatives whereby the chosen alternative is rated more positively and the rejected alternative is rated more negatively than they were previously rated. People are assumed to reassess their attitudes to reduce cognitive dissonance—discomfort that stems from considering the negative features of the chosen alternative and the positive features of the rejected alternative. Whereas most dissonance research has examined its possible conscious origins, surprisingly little research has examined the possibility that dissonance is due to unconscious processes. We tested whether the act of rejecting an alternative might engender response inhibition toward the stimulus, which would suggest the spreading of alternatives is due to an unconscious process. Research participants made choices between equally liked stimuli and completing a go/no-go reaction time task with the chosen and rejected stimuli before re-rating those stimuli. Although we did not find response inhibition for the rejected alternatives or response facilitation for the chosen alternatives, we did find evidence that the presence of the chosen and rejected stimuli influenced the ease with which the go/no-go signals were processed by the participants, supporting the assumption that an automatic process may play some role in the spreading of alternatives.