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Social Cognition

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  1. Social Cognition Chapter Four

  2. Social Cognition • To what extent do we behave like we are superstitious, simpleminded, and/or uneducated? • How might our fictions guide our behavior and actions?

  3. Social Cognition • We are forever trying to make sense of our social world • How we do it makes a difference…

  4. How Do We Make Sense of the World? • We humans have powerful and efficient brains. • As wonderful as they are, they are far from perfect. • One consequence of this imperfection is that most of us end up “knowing” a lot of things that simply are not true. • Example: Infertile couples, adoption, & later conception (Gilovich) • We believe it is true because we want it to be and because we focus our attention on instances that support our belief.

  5. How Do We Make Sense of the World? • Are we rational animals? • 18th century philosopher Bentham thought so… • He argued we engage in a felicific calculus – a happiness calculation – to determine what is good and what is bad. • The goal = “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” • Became a fundamental assumption underlying modern capitalism

  6. How Do We Make Sense of the World? • More recently, Kelley argued that people think like naïve scientists. • We look for three pieces of information: • Consistency • Consensus • Distinctiveness • The way we use this information to make attributions can underlie important decisions. • A systematic weighing of these factors can be highly valuable and extraordinarily important.

  7. How Do We Make Sense of the World? • There is little argument that we are capable of rational thought and behavior. • Example: Benjamin Franklin’s felicific calculations • However, rational thought requires at least two conditions which almost never hold in every day life: • Access to accurate, useful information • Mental resources needed to process life’s data

  8. How Do We Make Sense of the World? • We do not possess a “God’s-eye” view of the world and, as such, we try to use shortcuts whenever we can. • According to Fiske & Taylor, we human beings are cognitive misers. • We are forever trying to conserve our cognitive energy.

  9. How Do We Make Sense of the World? • Fiske & Taylor argue that, given our limited capacity to process information, we attempt to adopt strategies that simplify complex problems. • We ignore some information. • We “overuse” other information. • We accept a less-than-perfect alternative. • Our strategies are efficient but can lead to serious errors and biases. • Unless we recognize our cognitive limitations we will be enslaved by them.

  10. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment • How does social context – the way things are presented and described – affect our judgments about people, including ourselves? • Four different aspects are key: • The comparison of alternatives • The thoughts primed by a situation • How a decision is framed or posed • The way information is presented • All judgment is relative – how we think about a person or thing is dependent on its surrounding context.

  11. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Reference Points & Contrast Effects • An object can appear to be better or worse than it is, depending on what it is compared to. • Example: Use of a decoy • An alternative that is clearly inferior to other possible selections – but serves the purpose of making one of the others, the one it is most similar to – look better by comparison • Example: Tasti-burger decoy study (Pratkanis, et al.) • The addition of the decoy created a contrast effect…

  12. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Reference Points & Contrast Effects • When any object is contrasted with something similar but not as good, that particular object is judged to be better than would normally be the case. • This is the contrast effect. • Example: Charlie’s Angels/Blind date (Kenrick & Gutierres)

  13. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Reference Points & Contrast Effects • Contrast effects can occur subtly and have powerful effects. • Depending on the context, objects and alternatives can be made to look better or worse. • Examples: politicians, cars, houses, etc.

  14. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Reference Points & Contrast Effects • Important judgments we make about ourselves can also be powerfully influenced by contrast effects. • Example: HS valedictorian at an elite college • Example: Comparison of own attractiveness relative to beautiful vs. average people

  15. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Priming & Construct Accessibility • How we interpret social events usually depends on what we are currently thinking about, as well as what beliefs and categories we typically use to make sense of things. • Categories vary with the individual.

  16. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Priming & Construct Accessibility • Interpretation also can depend on what happens to be prominent in the situation, which can be induced through priming. • A procedure based on the notion that ideas that have been recently encountered or frequently activated are more likely to come to mind and thus will be used in interpreting social events • Example: Higgins, Rholes, & Jones study of impression formation • Example: Bargh, et al. study

  17. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Priming & Construct Accessibility • Priming can and does have a major impact on the attitudes and behavior of many people – even of seasoned professionals in life-and-death situations in the real world. • Example: Physician study on HIV risk (Heath, et al.)

  18. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Priming & Construct Accessibility • Several studies have shown that there is a link between which stories the media cover and what viewers consider to be the most important issues of the day. • In other words, the mass media make certain issues and concepts readily accessible and thereby set the public’s political and social agendas. • Example: NC Election study (McCombs & Shaw) • Example: Iyengar, Peters, & Kinder study

  19. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Framing the Decision • Another factor influencing how we construct our social world is decision framing – whether a problem or decision is presented in such a way that it appears to represent the potential for a loss or for a gain. • Example: Gain/Loss study (Kahneman & Tversky)

  20. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: Framing the Decision • People dislike losses and seek to avoid them. • It is more painful to give up $20 than it is pleasurable to gain $20. • How a question is framed is of enormous importance. • Example: Energy conservation study (Aronson, Gonzales, & Costanzo) • Example: Breast cancer self-examination (Meyerowitz & Chaiken)

  21. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Ordering of Information • Another factor influencing the way we organize and interpret the social world is the manner in which information is arranged and distributed. • Two especially important characteristics: • What comes first • The amount of information given

  22. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Ordering of Information • The Primacy Effect and Information Formation • Things we learn first about a person have a decisive impact on our judgment of that people. • Example: Asch study of personality assessment • Example: Perception of intelligence (Jones, et al.)

  23. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Ordering of Information • In many situations we are not simply sitting back observing those we are judging. • We are interacting and actively influencing. • We have specific goals that shape our interpretations of the people we interact with. • Example: Teachers judging intelligence of students

  24. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Ordering of Information • An interesting exception to the primacy effect was discovered by Aronson & Jones. • Study of tutors and anagram solvers • Suggests that if teachers are invested in the long-term development of their students they are prone to resist making a snap judgment based on a first impression

  25. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Ordering of Information • Why does the primacy effect in impression formation occur? • Evidence for two explanations: • Attention decrement • Later items in a list receive less attention and, thus, have less impact on judgment. • Interpretive set • First items create an initial impression that is used to interpret subsequent information, either through the discounting of incongruent facts or by subtle changes in the meaning of the items seen later.

  26. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Ordering of Information • Regardless of the explanation, the primacy effect has an important impact on social judgment. • Moreover, we usually have little control over the order in which we receive information. • Therefore, it is important to realize the existence of these effects so that we can try to correct for them.

  27. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Amount of Information • We often believe we want more information when making a decision. • Although it can be helpful, it also can change how an object is perceived and evaluated through what is called “the dilution effect.” • The tendency for neutral and irrelevant information to weaken a judgment or impression • Example: Zukier study

  28. The Effects of Context on Social Judgment: The Amount of Information • The dilution effect has obvious practical value for persons interested in managing impression, such as those in sales or politics. • Why does it occur? • One answer is that irrelevant information about a person makes a person seem more similar to others, and thus more average and like everyone else.

  29. Judgmental Heuristics • One way that we make sense of the array of information that comes our way is through the use of judgmental heuristics. • These are mental shortcuts – a simple, often approximate, rule or strategy for solving a problem. • Heuristics require very little thought. • The three most common: • Representative heuristic • Availability heuristic • Attitude heuristic

  30. Judgmental Heuristics • According to Kahneman & Tversky, when we use the representative heuristic, we focus on the similarity of one object to another to infer that the first object acts like the second. • Example: High-quality products are expensive, therefore, if something is expensive, it is high-quality. • Example: Lucky Charms vs. 100% Natural • Example: Disease cure should resemble cause.

  31. Judgmental Heuristics • The representative heuristic is often used to form impressions and to make judgments about other persons. • The first information we usually pick up about a person is usually associated with simple rules that guide thought and behavior. • Example: Gender and ethnic stereotypes

  32. Judgmental Heuristics • The availability heuristic refers to judgments based on how easy it is for us to bring specific examples to mind. • There are many situations in which this short cut will prove accurate and useful. • The main problem with employing this heuristic is that sometimes what is easiest to bring to mind is not typical of the overall picture. • This will lead us to faulty conclusions. • Example: Death from drowning or fire? (Plous)

  33. Judgmental Heuristics • An attitude is a special type of belief that includes emotional and evaluative components. • In a sense, an attitude is a stored evaluation. • According to Pratkanis & Greenwald, people tend to use the attitude heuristic as a way of making decisions and solving problems. • Example: Reagan college grades (Pratkanis)

  34. Judgmental Heuristics • The use of an attitude heuristic can influence our logic and ability to reason. • Example: Thistlewaite study of syllogisms

  35. Judgmental Heuristics • Another dimension of the attitude heuristic is the halo effect. • A general bias in which a favorable or unfavorable general impression of a person affects our inferences and future expectations about that person • Example: College students halo for women’s diet (Stein & Nemeroff)

  36. Judgmental Heuristics • Still another dimension of the attitude heuristic is the false-consensus effect. • An overestimation of the percentage of people who agree with us on any given issue • If I believe something, I leap to the conclusion that most other people feel the same way. • Example: “Eat at Joe’s” study (Ross, et al.)

  37. Judgmental Heuristics • When do we use heuristics? What conditions are most likely to lead to heuristic employment rather than rational decision making? • Multiple conditions: • Lack of time to think • Information overload • Unimportant issue • Little solid information

  38. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • One of the most important consequences of categorization is that it can invoke specific data or stereotypes that then guide our expectations. • Example: “Hannah” study (Darley & Gross) • Most people seem to have some understanding of stereotypes. • They seem reluctant to apply them in the absence of solid data. • Despite this understanding, stereotypes still influence our perception and judgments.

  39. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • Often in real face-to-face interactions, the process observed by Darley & Gross does not stop with mere judgments. • Example: Stereotypes, schoolteachers, & student performance (Rosenthal & Jacobson) • Results demonstrated that expectations and stereotypes lead people to treat others in a way that makes them confirm their expectations. • This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  40. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • Still another effect of categorization is that we frequently perceive a relationship between two entities that we think should be related – but, in fact, they are not. • Social psychologists have dubbed this “the illusory correlation.” • Example: Hamilton, et al., study

  41. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • This illusory correlation shows up quite often in social judgments. • Example: Likelihood of lesbians contracting AIDS • Example: Psychiatric diagnostic categories • Regardless of the setting, the illusory correlation does much to confirm our original stereotypes. • Our stereotype leads us to see a relationship that then seems to provide evidence that the original stereotype is true.

  42. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • One of the most common ways of categorizing people is to divide them into two groups: those in “my” group and those in the “out” group. • When we divide the world into two such realities, two important consequences occur: • The homogeneity effect • In-group favoritism

  43. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • The homogeneity effect refers to the fact that we tend to see members of out-groups as more similar to each other than the members of our own group – the in-group. • It is not uncommon for us to imagine that members of the out-group all look alike, think alike, and act alike. • Example: Sorority study (Park & Rothbart)

  44. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • In-group favoritism refers to the tendency to see one’s own group as better on any number of dimensions and to allocate rewards to one’s own group. • In-group favoritism has been extensively studied using what has come to be known as the minimum group paradigm…

  45. Categorization & Social Stereotypes • In the minimum group paradigm, originated by Tajfel, complete strangers are divided into groups using the most trivial criteria imaginable. • Group members behave as if those who share their meaningless label are their good friends or close kin and allocate more money and rewards to those who share their label.

  46. Constructive Predictions & Re-constructive Memory • Two thinking processes play an important role in social cognition: • Predicting our reactions to future events • Remembering past events • Both are subject to considerable error. • Considerable research demonstrates that we overestimate the emotional impact of events and durability to these events, whether good or bad. • Example: Assistant professors (not) receiving tenure

  47. Constructive Predictions & Re-constructive Memory • Why do we mispredict? • One reason is that we adjust to both happy and sad events in our lives, but frequently fail to recognize our powers of adjustment when we mentally construct what our futures will look and feel like. • Another reason is that when we imagine the future, we tend to focus only upon the event in question to the exclusion of all other things that will undoubtedly occur at the same time.

  48. Constructive Predictions & Re-constructive Memory • Like imaging the future, recalling the past plays an important role in our social interactions, and is also subject to bias. • Remembering is a re-constructive process. • We recreate our memories from bits and pieces of actual events filtered through and modified by our notions of what might have been, and what should have been, and what we would like it to have been.

  49. Constructive Predictions & Re-constructive Memory • Our memories also are profoundly influenced by what people have told us about specific events – long after they occurred. • Example: Work of Elizabeth Loftus • Leading questions influence the judgment of facts and can affect the memory of what has happened.

  50. Autobiographical Memory • It is clear that memory can be reconstructive when it involves quick, snapshot-like events. • We also have a strong tendency to organize our personal history in terms of what Markus calls “self-schemas.” • Coherent memories, feelings, and beliefs about ourselves that hang together and form an integrated whole • Our memories get distorted in such a way that they fit the general picture we have of ourselves. • Example: Ross, McFarland, & Fletcher study of toothbrushing