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SOCIAL COGNITION. 1970s, label ‘social cognition’ (arises out of earlier work on attitudes, attribution, person perception)

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social cognition

1970s, label ‘social cognition’

  • (arises out of earlier work on attitudes, attribution, person perception)

‘…The social cognition approach is based on the conviction that constructs relevant to cognitive representation and process are fundamental to understanding all human responses, regardless of whether those responses are social or non-social in nature…’ (Ostrom 1994)

process by which people make sense of think about other people
Process by which people make sense of/think about other people
  • Premise that cognition underlies all important human phenomena:
    • Cognition both determines and is determined by how we live our lives.
    • Sole difference between cognitive psychology and social cognition is phenomena being understood
  • Contribution: use of common explanatory principles across all areas of social psychology
    • Drive toward theoretical generality, theoretical integration
core principles of social cognition
Core principles of social cognition
  • Experimentation
  • Metaphorical models: Information processor; naïve scientist; cognitive miser; motivated tactician (Fiske & Taylor 1991)
    • James 1890/1983:960 ‘My thinking is first and last and always for the sake of my doing and I can only do one thing at a time’
  • Constructivism & Realism
Perceptual cognitivism (therefore posits internal cognitive constructs)
  • Mental representations
  • Unconscious operations
  • Controlled processes
objects vs people as targets of perception some important differences
Objects vs. People as targets of perceptionSome important differences
  • People intentionally influence their environment (intentionality)
  • People as objects of perception perceive back; joint perception is negotiated (mutual perception)
  • Social cognition implicates the self as subject as well as object (self-presentation)
  • Social objects may change upon being the target of cognition (variable)
  • The accuracy or veracity of cognitions about people is harder or impossible to assess than for non-social objects (complex)
  • Social cognition involves social explanation
  • Social cognition is shared.
pragmatic social context of thinking about others
Pragmatic social context of thinking about others


2 descriptions of thinking

  • Locke’s 1690 elemental approach
  • Kant 1871 interpretative constructive approach (Gestalt)

Asch 1964 (configural model)

Impressions are a configuration, they are unified and integrated - active process

We go beyond information given Bruner 1957

alternative: elemental or algebraic modelAnderson 1981
  • Take components of impression, extract evaluations
  • Decision making model
  • Highly predictive

Holistic or Gestalt model started research into schemas

= cognitive structure that represents knowledge about concept or stimulus, incl. attributes & relations among attributes (Fiske & Taylor 1991:98)

Preconceptions or theories about social world

·Person schemas


·Role schemas

·Event schemas

Information management

Schemas shape how we encode, remember & judge information - categorization process

·Direct attention

·Guide memory

·Influence judgement

Schemas vs. evidence – theory vs. data? Depends on fit & diagnosticity; motivation; conditions

Default option – schema.

3 major processes operate on Schemas and attributions = fundamental building blocks of social cognition
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • inference

Selectivity in processing information from the environment.

What effects does salience have on our perception of others?

2 different kinds of processes: encoding and consciousness, the experience of awareness itself.

Most important features: selective & limited.

Context – salience is a property of a stimulus in a particular context.
  • Immediate context
  • One’s schema or prior knowledge
  • Current task


  • exaggerates people’s causal attributions
  • exaggerates our evaluations, polarises them.
person memory
Person memory
  • Sets or goals relating to learning new information
    • Memory set
    • Impression set
    • Empathy set
    • Self-reference
    • Anticipated interaction

Priming of old information

human inference core of sc
Human Inference – core of SC

Once information is available: 

  • personal filters in the form of cognitive categories;
  • limited ability to process information; and
  • values and interests

act to select, categorize and provide the basis for a person to organize events

Personal constructs - templates through which we draw inferences about others’ characteristics.

We do not invent these cognitive units, we acquire them primarily through the language of our culture.

Inferences drawn often fallacious or biased.

Errors and biases: Heuristics

Tversky & Kahneman 1974
  • Representativeness
  • Availability
  • Simulation (counterfactual thinking)
  • Anchoring & adjustment
continuing critique from european inspired intergroup perspective social identity theory
Continuing critique from European inspired intergroup perspective (Social Identity Theory) 

Social cognition ignores group conflicts & memberships,asocietal individual

  • Low context, high objectivity
  • Decontextualized and individualistic

Self/other : Psychological/social can’t be detached

Social & psychological determinants of behaviour not competing alternatives but inseparable complements

  • 2 pages on Macrae et al. study 1994 – Augoustinos et al. 2006*(required).
  • Ch. 5 in the Blackwell Reader
  • McGarty & Haslam, Ch. 23 & 7
  • Steele, R.S. & Morawski, J.G. (2002) Implicit cognition and the social unconscious. Theory & Psychology, 12(1), 37-54.
  • Fiske, S.T., Cuddy, A.J.C. & Glick, P. (2006) Universal dimensions of social cognition: Warmth & competence. Trends in Cognitive Science, 11(2), 77-83.