Randomness increases self-reported anxiety and neurophysiological correlates of performance monitoring.
Several prominent theories spanning clinical, social and developmental psychology suggest that people are motivated to see the world as a sensible orderly place. These theories presuppose that randomness is aversive because it is associated with unpredictability. If this is the case, thinking that the world is random should lead to increased anxiety and heightened monitoring of one's actions and their consequences. Here, we conduct experimental tests of both of these ideas. Participants read one of three passages: (i) comprehensible order, (ii) incomprehensible order and (iii) randomness. In Study 1, we examined the effects of these passages on self-reported anxiety. In Study 2, we examined the effects of the same manipulation on the error-related negativity (ERN), an event-related brain potential associated with performance monitoring. We found that messages about randomness increased self-reported anxiety and ERN amplitude relative to comprehensible order, whereas incomprehensible order had intermediate effects. These results lend support to the theoretically important idea that randomness is unsettling because it implies that the world is unpredictable.
Tullett, AM; Kay, AC; Inzlicht, M
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