Mental contamination and mental correction: unwanted influences on judgments and evaluations

Psychol Bull. 1994 Jul;116(1):117-42. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.116.1.117.


We define mental contamination as the process whereby a person has an unwanted response because of mental processing that is unconscious or uncontrollable. This type of bias is distinguishable from the failure to know or apply normative rules of inference and can be further divided into the unwanted consequences of automatic processing and source confusion, which is the confusion of 2 or more causes of a response. Mental contamination is difficult to avoid because it results from both fundamental properties of human cognition (e.g., a lack of awareness of mental processes) and faulty lay beliefs about the mind (e.g., incorrect theories about mental biases). People's lay beliefs determine the steps they take (or fail to take) to correct their judgments and thus are an important but neglected source of biased responses. Strategies for avoiding contamination, such as controlling one's exposure to biasing information, are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Mental Processes*