Benefits of being ambivalent - people who are more ambivalent are fairer in their social judgments.
Ambivalence refers to the experience of having both positive and negative thoughts and feelings about the same object, person, or issue. Traditionally, ambivalence has been seen as a negative phenomenon, leading to indecision and a lack of motivation. However, in recent work, we show that ambivalence can positively affect judgment and decision-making processes.
Although some situations and topics evoke more or less ambivalence, there are also differences between people in how much ambivalence they usually experience from day to day, with some people being more ambivalent than others. How does being "an ambivalent' affect decision-making?
In our study, we explore this in the realm of biases in person perception. Person perception is an important component of social life, and how we judge other determines the quality of our interactions. In our works, we examined two common biases in person perception: correspondence bias and self-serving bias. Correspondence bias refers to the tendency to attribute a person's behavior to their personality or character, even when external factors are present. For example, suppose a coworker arrives late to a meeting. In that case, a person with a strong correspondence bias may think, "She is always unreliable," even if the person is late because of factors outside herself, like a bus strike. Self-serving bias refers to the tendency to attribute success to personal characteristics and failures to external factors. For example, suppose a student receives a good grade on an exam. In that case, they may attribute it to their own intelligence. However, if they receive a bad grade, they may attribute it to the exam being too difficult.
We found that being high in trait ambivalence might not be all that bad. The higher individuals are in trait ambivalence, the smaller their bias towards attributing behavior to a person's disposition and their tendency to engage in self-serving biases. Thus, even though people high in ambivalence might seem indecisive, they are also more balanced and fair when it comes to judging others. As such, in some situations, being more ambivalent might be something to cultivate and appreciate - especially in a context where judgments or others are important, such as in hiring and evaluation procedures.
Ambivalence is an inescapable part of modern life. Understanding when ambivalence helps and when it hinders, can help us harness its power for better decision-making in our daily lives.
If you want to read the details of our paper, you can find it here.
Schneider, I. K., Novin, S., van Harreveld, F., & Genschow, O. (2021). Benefits of being ambivalent: The relationship between trait ambivalence and attribution biases. British Journal of Social Psychology, 60(2), 570-586.