In This Article Conditional Reasoning

  • Introduction
  • Implicit Motives, Justification Mechanisms, and Conditional Reasoning
  • General Overviews
  • Conditional Reasoning Test for Aggression (CRT-A)
  • Conditional Reasoning Test for Relative Motive Strength (CRT-RMS)
  • Other Conditional Reasoning Tests

Management Conditional Reasoning
James M. LeBreton
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0161


Conditional reasoning refers to both a general theory of personality and an indirect measurement system used to assess personality. The basic tenets of the conditional reasoning theory of personality include: a) individuals’ wish to maintain a self-perception that their behavior is reasonable, logical, rational, and appropriate (versus unreasonable, illogical, irrational, and inappropriate); b) individuals with a strong implicit motive (desire or need) to pursue a behavior will develop biased patterns of reasoning that facilitates the conclusion that their behavior was indeed reasonable (i.e., logical, rational, appropriate); c) biases that serve to enhance the logical appeal of motive-based behaviors may be referred to as “justification mechanisms”; and d) distinct clusters or sets of justification mechanisms will be associated with each implicit motive. The basic tenets of the conditional reasoning measurement system include: a) it is possible to measure the extent to which justification mechanisms influence (i.e., bias) reasoning by asking individuals to solve inductive reasoning problems; b) individuals with stronger levels of the implicit motive (e.g., motive to aggress) will be more likely to select solutions to reasoning problems that are derived from the motive-relevant justification mechanisms (e.g., hostile attribution bias, retribution bias, derogation of target bias); and c) conditional reasoning is said to occur when the likelihood of judging a solution to an inductive reasoning problem as “correct” depends on the personality (i.e., the implicit motives and accompanying justification mechanisms) of the respondent.

Implicit Motives, Justification Mechanisms, and Conditional Reasoning

In many instances, what we believe to be rational and objective analyses may, in fact, have been influenced or shaped by implicit or unconscious biases. Such biases impact how we frame events (and the people in those events); the explanations we generate for why events occurred; the type of information we seek to confirm or disconfirm those explanations; and ultimately, what we judge to be the most appropriate responses to those events. Conditional reasoning focuses on a unique type of bias that stems from components of our unconscious personality (e.g., implicit motives). According to James and LeBreton 2012, these biases allow us to maintain the illusion that our behavior is justified, reasonable, rationale, and appropriate, when in fact it has been caused by our unconscious motives. James 1998 referred to these biases as justification mechanisms to emphasize the role they play in rationalizing or justifying behavior. Different motives are hypothesized to have distinct implicit cognitive signatures consisting of a unique constellation of justification mechanisms. For example, James and LeBreton 2010 and James and LeBreton 2012 summarize the justification mechanisms associated with the motive to aggress (i.e., the desire or intent to harm or injure others) which consists of the hostile attribution bias, derogation of target bias, retribution bias, victimization by powerful others bias, potency bias, and social discounting bias. These biases guide how situations are perceived, interpreted, encoded, and ultimately, how one responds in a particular situation. Whereas the conscious (explicit) components of personality may be directly measured via self-report surveys, the unconscious (implicit) components of personality must be indirectly measured. Conditional reasoning tests accomplish this indirect assessment by asking respondents to solve inductive reasoning problems. Each problem consists of a set of premises and respondents are asked to identify the most reasonable solution based on those premises. Unbeknown to respondents, each conditional reasoning problem contains multiple, logically plausible solutions derived from justification mechanisms linked to different motives (e.g., efficacy of persistence bias associated with the motive to achieve, or self-handicapping bias associated with the motive to avoid failure). Under the cover of objective problem solving, respondents believe that their reasoning and analysis is objective, rational, and reasonable. However, the solution that respondents judged to be most reasonable is determined by their personality—that is, individuals with different implicit personalities (i.e., different latent motives) are differentially drawn to the logic of different conclusions derived from different sets of justification mechanisms. For example, someone with a strong motive to achieve is likely to find solutions based on justification mechanisms such as the efficacy of persistence bias or the malleability of skills bias to be more convincing than solutions derived from justification mechanisms such as the self-handicapping bias or the fixed skills bias (which are based on the motive to avoid failure). James 1998 referred to this approach to personality theory and measurement as conditional reasoning because the likelihood that an individual will judge a particular solution as “correct” depends on the extent to which justification mechanisms are instrumental in shaping his or her reasoning.

  • James, L. R. “Measurement of Personality via Conditional Reasoning.” Organizational Research Methods 1.2 (1998): 131–163.

    DOI: 10.1177/109442819812001E-mail Citation »

    First article published on conditional reasoning. This article introduces key concepts including implicit motives, cognitive biases, justification mechanisms, and conditional reasoning. The article focuses on the theory and empirical evidence for a conditional reasoning test of relative motive strength (CRT-RMS). Available online by purchase or subscription.

  • James, L. R., and J. M. LeBreton. “Assessing Aggression Using Conditional Reasoning.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 19.1 (2010): 30–35.

    DOI: 10.1177/0963721409359279E-mail Citation »

    An accessible introduction to conditional reasoning with a focus on the theory and measurement of the implicit motive to aggress. This article is suited for use in undergraduate and graduate classes. It introduces key concepts (e.g., justification mechanisms) and reviews the validity evidence for the Conditional Reasoning Test for Aggression (CRT-A). Available online by subscription or purchase.

  • James, L. R., and J. M. LeBreton. Assessing the Implicit Personality through Conditional Reasoning. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1037/13095-000E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 1 contrasts implicit and explicit personality and articulates a set of criteria for any technology used to measure implicit personality. Chapter 2 lays out the conditional reasoning theory of personality. Chapter 3 focuses on the conditional reasoning measurement system.

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