What Is Hot Cognition?

Marlene Garcia

Hot cognition processes information primarily through emotions and experiences stored in long-term memory. It might be called motivated reasoning because a person using hot cognition to weigh several options might be biased from prior events. Hot cognition might lead to an immediate decision based on positive or negative stimuli linked to a personal emotion. In contrast, cold cognition involves a deliberate process of using facts and logic to arrive at decisions.

Hot cognition is based on the mood of the person making decisions.
Hot cognition is based on the mood of the person making decisions.

Scientists discovered hot cognition activates a certain part of the brain linked to emotional response. A separate area of the brain controlling rational problem-solving becomes active when abstract reasoning, or cold cognition, is employed. Researchers looked at these different thought processes in relation to moral decisions and how humans choose political candidates.

Motivated reasoning based on emotions might explain why humans ignore negative information when it conflicts with a selected option. One study showed decisions based on emotion were reinforced as people dismissed new data about political candidates containing negative information. These study participants sought out information to support their immediate impressions, while giving little credence to contrary evidence.

Hot cognition might represent an evolutionary, automatic response based on imitating peers within a culture. Emotional situations that spark fear, for example, might be stored in the unconscious mind and triggered by similar events. Decisions based on hot cognition might appear impulsive, but also efficiently provoke an immediate response in critical or dangerous situations. These thought processes might determine social attitudes within specific cultural groups.

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Psychologists believe moral decisions generally stem from emotional regions in the brain. Cognitive arousal based on emotions might cloud judgment when a person makes decisions. He or she might become more responsive when presented with information that triggers the arousal experienced in the past. This data might be easily retrieved because details are encoded in memory.

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