Social Cognition


Social Cognition is the study of how people make sense out of themselves and others. It focuses on how people think about other people and how they think they think about others and themselves. Social cognition looks at the higher mental processes that are engaged while in social situations or in dealing with social information (perception, memory, attention, reasoning, and problem solving).


Sometimes the study of social cognition is called IMPRESSION FORMATION and PERSON MEMORY

Implicit Personality Theories - assumptions that people make about what traits are associated and how traits are associated with particular behaviors. Our implicit personality theories dominate our judgments of others and of ourselves.

George Kelly - Personal Construct Theory

We are naïve scientists looking through patterns we construct to fit over our worlds (as a template). Each of chooses (Constructs) ways of interpreting the world that will make the world more predictable and controllable


Solomon Asch. He hypothesized that central traits alter the final impression formed by changing the meaning of every other trait in the set (an intelligent cold versus an intelligent warm person)


                Dennotative and Connotative differences in the meaning of trait terms


                Weighted Averaging Model - 2 characteristics of a descriptive adjective: scale value and weight

                Scale value - negativity or positivity of the trait

                Weight - is an estimate of the contribution of the trait to the overall impression (a proportional value). Warm is positive and has high weight….


                Factors affecting weight:


1)  personal positivity bias - everyone has his/her own point of view, traits that fit this bias are viewed more positively and hold more weight

2)  trait negativity bias - negative traits carry more weight (it is harder to prove a positive trait than a negative trait and harder to disprove a negative trait than a positive trait - honest vs. dishonest, moral vs. immoral


Automatic vigilance - tendency to focus on undesirable information; may be adaptable - alert us to danger - “face in the crowd effect”


Leon, Oden, & Anderson (1973) in comparative judgments of criminal offenses, more serious crimes (rape, murder) had more extreme weight than less serious crimes ( vagrancy, forgery, fraud)


3)  priming - tendency for recent thoughts or ideas to influence subsequent thoughts or ideas (to put something in mind); heightens the availability of information. Automatic priming or unconscious priming - unaware


Higgins (1977) all Ss read a short passage about a man Prior to reading the passage, half of the Ss were shown words (brave, independent, bold) and the other half were shown (reckless, foolish, careless)

Findings: Ss exposed to the positive words formed a more flattering impression of the climber than did those exposed to the negative words


Forgas & Bower (1987) Ss’ mood was manipulated by performance feedback then they were read stories

Findings: Good mood Ss remembered more positive information from the story and Bad mood Ss remembered more negative things


primacy effect - the order in which the trait is discovered impacts on the impression formed (first impressions). Asch (1946) gave sentences to students describing someone, the traits read either that the individual “John” was intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, and envious or that he was envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, and intelligent.

Findings: Ss rated John more positively in the first condition


5)  framing -  our judgments about various issues are often strongly affected by the way the information is presented, when information is presented in positive terms favorable associations are made; when information is presented in negative terms unfavorable associations are made.


Tversky & Kahneman (1984) presented problems to people, when the problems were framed in terms of lives saved 72% chose program A; when framed in terms of lives lost 78% chose program D and only 22% program C


Schema and Prototypes


                Schema - an abstract memory representation of knowledge derived from past experience and inference that we use to interpret current experience; a cognitive structure that represents knowledge about a concept, object, event, etc. and schema helps us to interpret our world


Prototype - an abstract set of features commonly associated with members of a category; an abstract representation of a concept (e.g. airplane). An averaged idea of the concept.

Both schema and prototypes simplify and reduce the need to remember excessive amounts of information. Each is a way of organizing knowledge. They influence us in four ways:


1)  encoding - the way we interpret information

2)  memory - we are more likely to remember things consistent with our schema

3)  judgments, evaluations, and predictions are schema based

4)  behavior - seek out information supporting our schema


Cantor & Michel (1977) gave Ss explicit descriptions of a person sometimes including the label Extrovert or Introvert and sometimes not (no labels). Ss were then distracted with a filler task. Test - 15 traits were listed for recognition about the person described (5 were previously stated; 5 were related to the personality type but were not stated; 5 were unrelated to the personality type). Findings: Ss falsely recognized traits that were consistent with the personality type. This occurred whether or not the person in the passage was labeled. Implications: Ss fit the person type into her/his schema for an introvert or an extrovert. Ss had trouble distinguishing what they heard from what they know. (schema)


Person Prototypes - central examples of certain types of people (Cantor & Mischel, 1979 - a cultured person)


Stereotypes are a type of schema or person prototype. A schema about members of a group.


Schema based errors:


1) Illusory Correlations - an overestimation of the relationship between 2 variables. Infrequent events are used to explain the whole group (I haven’t had much contact with Iraquis but the ones I have seen on TV are …….). Stereotypes assume a correlation between a person’s group membership and their characteristics (Blonds - dumb; Jews - shrewd; Blacks - athleticism). Because we attend to distinctive behaviors and features. Co-occurrence is especially noticeable (when a black person muggs someone - being black is distinctive and so is mugging).

Persistent stereotypes can lead us to see correlations that are not there. Boys engaging in the same behavior, black boys are viewed as being aggressive, white boys as horsing around.


2) Biased Perceptions - positivity and negativity biases due to a person’s group membership ( In -groups and out-groups). We assume that people in our groups are similar to us and therefore better; those in the outgroup are perceived as different and therefore more negatively


3)  Selectivity - we pay attention or select to attend to schema consistent information. We sometimes have trouble remembering information that is inconsistent with our schema for the individual or for the category. Instead of recalling information about the individual, we recall information about the category and assume that it is accurate.


Darley & Gross (1983) lower class or upper class photo of a little girl was shown  to a group of teachers; the child was then shown taking a test. During the test she looks up. Teachers were asked to predict the child’s ability and support their prediction (give a reason).

                                Findings: the lower class child was viewed as being lower in ability than the upper middle class child

                Conclusion: Ss’ schema for social class was used to form an impression of the child


Snyder & Swann (1978a) Ss asked introverts and extroverts different questions when they were given a label as to the interviewee’s personality type. They asked questions that would lead to the conclusion that the person was indeed an introvert/extrovert


Self-fulfilling Prophesy - the tendency to see the behaviors and traits in people that we expect to see and the tendency to behave towards the other according to the beliefs . Expectancy confirmation - the tendency to seek  and interpret information that verifies existing beliefs. Behavioral confirmation - the tendency to behave toward others in a way that will elicit behaviors from them that will confirm our beliefs about them Stereotyping leads people - to treat others as a group member rather than as individuals; to establish expectancies that lead to biased attention and processing; to search for expectancy confirming evidence including supplying evidence that is not there (inferences). Stereotyping sets in motion the self-fulfilling prophesy that influences treatment of the outgroup members by in-group members; affects how the stereotyped behave


Schema Inconsistent Information - do we only pay attention to expected information?


Hastie - if we have time to pay attention or notice and remember schema inconsistent information. Scrull (1981) when a distraction occurred, Ss were unable to recall inconsistent information


Hastie and Kumar (1979) varied the proportion of consistent and inconsistent information - found - inconsistent information was better remembered. He concluded that we pay attention to unexpected information.


Bargh (1983) much schematic processing is automatic - done rapidly, without thinking (mindless)


The Cognitive Miser - one view of the social thinker is as a miser. We are limited in our capacity to process information so we take shortcuts (heuristics) whenever we can. We adopt strategies to simplify complex problems. We look for rapid answers rather than slower, more accurate solutions. Consequently, errors and biases occur from motivation (as in attribution theory) but are also due to cognitive processing inaccuracies - more efficient strategies may lead to errors.

                Bodenhaus (1989) Carlos Ramirez vs. Mike Johnson - jury decision - who is more often found guilty?


                Cognitive Busyness - the extent to which a person’s cognitive processes are engaged by multiple tasks (e.g. cognitively busy perceivers may be attempting to manage impressions, predict a partner’s behavior, evaluate alternative courses of action, and think of what’s happening next, etc.). Gilbert - cognitively busy people are more likely to make automatic spontaneous trait ascriptions


Motivated Tacticians - views the social thinker as a person with multiple cognitive strategies available who chooses among these strategies based on goals, needs, motives, etc..


Heuristics: A rapid form of reasoning; shortcuts that reduce complex problems to simpler judgments


1)the representative heuristic - used to make judgments about probability (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973, 1982). How likely is it that person A is a member of category B? (Person A is meek, quiet, intelligent, introverted - is he a librarian/astronaut?)

One estimates the extent to which A fits or is representative of the category and makes a decision. The more similar the individual is to the prototype, the more likely he is to belong to that group.


Base Rate Fallacy - tendency for people to ignore general broad based information about population characteristics in favor of more concrete anecdotal information - vivid examples outweigh real information. For example, the welfare queen living an affluent lifestyle on welfare. Ss were read a case of a welfare queen set in a story including actual welfare statistics that the average welfare recipient is on the rolls about 2 years. Judgments of the length of welfare usage and the wealth of the welfare recipients ignored the base rate information for the more vivid case study information (Hamill, Wilson & Nisbett, 1980). The frequency which an event of pattern occurs in the general public; overusing case history information about a category. When base rate information relevance is clear people use it - Ss were told about a car accident involving a cab - some of the Ss were told that an eyewitness saw a blue cab, they were also told that the city cabs were 85% green and 15% blue; other Ss were just told the percentages (no eyewitness). Ss in the second group used the base rate information but Ss in the first group did not.(Ginossar & Trope, 1980)

                  2) the availability heuristic - used to evaluate the frequency or likelihood of an event on the basis of how quickly examples                            come to mind. This is a search bias.

False consensus bias - assuming that others agree with you; “everyone thinks this “


Strength of Association - associations are strengthened by repetition


3)Simulation Heuristic - one use of availability is to construct hypothetical scenarios to try to estimate how something will come out - “When Dad finds out that I wrecked the car he will …..”. Used for prediction and causality, “if only” conditions, the counterfactual construction

The counterfactual construction or the mental simulation of how event might have been otherwise. Used to access causality in trying to identify the unique factors that led to a dramatic outcome .Negative outcomes that follow unusual behaviors generate more sympathy  - can imagine how it would have been different.

replacing an unusual event with a usual one


Anchoring and adjustment - when making judgments in uncertain situations, people will sometimes reduce the uncertainty by starting with a reference point or anchor; when asked to estimate how many people would do something Ss estimates are influenced by the decision that they would make for themselves (self-centered estimations); eyewitness research - “how far were the cars going when they smashed/ contacted each other/”; Judge’s instructions to consider the harshest sentence first may inadvertently serve as an anchor; buying a house/car.