Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Degree Program

Experimental Psychology, PhD

Committee Chair

DeCaro, Daniel

Committee Member

DeCaro, Marci

Committee Member

Noles, Nicholaus

Committee Member

Paliewicz, Nicholas

Author's Keywords

exploratory learning; persuasion; judgment and decision making; politics; Elaboration Likelihood Model


Americans are polarized along party lines across a variety of sociopolitical issues, including climate change and sustainability issues. Sociopolitical messaging often triggers biased processing that results in defensive rejection or biased elaboration (i.e., counterarguing) of belief-incongruent information. The current research examined whether exploratory learning activities, primarily applied in STEM-education research, can foster belief updating about polarized sustainability issues. Exploratory learning encourages people to engage with learning materials and arrive at their own conclusions before receiving direct instruction/messaging. In two experiments, participants reported their beliefs about carbon taxes and electric vehicle incentives (among other issues) before and after receiving counter-attitudinal persuasive stimuli in two forms, a data table and a persuasive message. Participants in the explore-first condition (EF) were presented with the data table containing information about the counter-attitudinal topic followed by a persuasive message on the same topic. Participants in the message-first (MF) condition encountered the same materials in reverse order. In Experiment 1, the source of the persuasive message was neutral. In Experiment 2, the persuasive message was attributed to a messenger from another political party, to test whether exploratory learning is more useful when individuals would otherwise reject the messenger. In both experiments, exploring data prior to receiving a persuasive message did not affect belief change. Participants in both experiments reported increased support for positions they had initially opposed, and to large effect. In Experiment 1, confidence in this support remained unchanged. In Experiment 2, confidence in the counter-attitudinal belief increased in the EF condition. Although effective in STEM fields, EL may not be beneficial in the context of sociopolitical decision making—at least when individuals are likely to update their beliefs anyway. However, EL might impact individuals’ metacognition when the messenger contradicts their political position.