Gawronski, B. (2002). On Difficult Questions and Evident Answers: Situational Adjustment and the Questioner Superiority Effect. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Two experiments investigated the role of question difficulty for situational adjustment of general knowledge attributions in the quiz-role paradigm (L. D. Ross, T. M. Amabile, & J. L. Steinmetz, 1977). In Experiment 1 contestants were rated higher in general knowledge when questions were difficult than when they were easy. Attributions for quizmasters were only weakly affected by question difficulty. In Experiment 2 inferences about contestants were influenced by question difficulty even when perceivers were distracted. Furthermore, question difficulty affected inferences about quizmasters only when perceivers were motivated and able to process the available information effortfully. Most importantly, when questions were difficult the questioner superiority effect increased rather than decreased as a function of enhanced cognitive elaboration. In sum, these results suggest that perceivers consider the difficulty of questions not answered correctly as a situational factor for a contestant's performance. Moreover, inferences about quizmasters seem to be adjusted to the situationally induced role advantage according to an implicit theory of ability (i.e., only knowledgeable individuals are able to generate difficult questions). Consequences for descriptive and normative approaches to the fundamental attribution error are discussed.