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Social Cognition. What is Social Cognition?. Our ability to predict, monitor and interpret the behaviours and mental states of other people Not being a psychic!. ‘Theories’. Babies Self Awareness Theory of Mind (Psychological sense of self) Selman’s Levels of Perspective Taking

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what is social cognition
What is Social Cognition?

Our ability to predict, monitor and interpret the behaviours and mental states of other people

Not being a psychic!

  • Babies Self Awareness
  • Theory of Mind (Psychological sense of self)
  • Selman’s Levels of Perspective Taking
  • Mirror Neuron Theory
self awareness
Self Awareness

Subjective Self Awareness

  • Some aspects of SA are present from birth

Feeling full, warmth etc.

  • By 2 months infants recognise that they are responsible for the movement of their limbs

‘Personal agency’

self awareness1
Self Awareness

Objective Self Awareness

  • Demonstrated by the Rouge test
  • Gallup (1970) did this with Monkeys
  • Amsterdam (1972) did this with infants
  • Pass at around 18 months
self awareness2
Self Awareness

and finally….

The realisation that other children and adults have beliefs, thoughts and emotions differing from his or her own

This is called Theory of Mind and seems to occur at around 4 years old

theory of mind

Theory of Mind

Not technically a theory it is a stage of development that there is a lot of research into.

Most research is from Baron-Cohen


  • Linking of ToM to Piaget…..
  • Egocentric – not being able to see things from another's point of view
  • What age does Piaget say this develops?
theory of mind1
Theory of Mind

Assessed by False Belief Tasks

Wimmer and Perner (1983) Maxi Test – develops around 4/5

Wellman et al (2001) Meta-analysis, taking into account different cultures – develops around 4/5

O’Neill (1996) – criticism of these tasks, ‘toy on the shelf task’ ToM present at age 2

False belief tasks could just be too complex in cognitive terms for those younger than 4/5 to pass. So the cognitive elements prevent us seeing how developed ToM is.

Any other methodological problems?

how do we develop tom
How do we develop ToM?
  • Shared Attention Mechanism – Baron-Cohen (1995)
  • Combining info about your direction of gaze with that of someone else. I see that daddy sees the cat; daddy sees that I see the cat .
  • Allows the child to decide if they are looking at the same thing giving an insight into the mental state of another person – ‘mummy sees the toy’
  • Baron-Cohen et al (2000)
how do we develop tom1
How do we develop ToM?
  • Language - Astington & Jenkins (1999)

Language development is central to children developing ToM

  • Lohmann et al (2005)
  • Astington & Jenkins (1999)
  • Characteristics…..
  • Autism can be explained by an undeveloped ToM (according to Baron-Cohen)
  • Baron-Cohen et al (1985) – Sally-Anne – false belief task with normal, downs syndrome and autistic children. Autistic children failed the task whereas all the others passed. This shows support for lack of ToM as an explanation for autism in particular as there is no link between Downs Syndrome children could complete it.
  • Positive application – cause of a common developmental disorder.
  • But can it explain all characteristics of autism?
summary of tom
Summary of ToM
  • Psychological sense of self
  • Definition
  • Develops around age 4/5
  • Research to support development at age 4/5
    • Including cross cultural
  • Research to criticise development at age 4/5
    • O’neil (toy on the shelf)
  • May depend on language development
  • May depend on SAM development
  • Provides an explanation for Autism – if ToM doesn’t develop Autism
  • Evidence to support this
    • Baron-Cohen – Sally-Anne task
    • Can it explain all characteristics?????

Nature / nurture, ethics, culture

selman s levels of perspective taking
Selman’s Levels of Perspective Taking
  • Another theory into children’s understanding of others
  • Stage theory – determined by age - invariant
  • Stages were developed using Dilemmas
  • Good perspective taking skills enable children to negotiate more effectively
  • Performance on dilemmas / stage can predict behaviour in the real world
  • Importance of cognitive ability
evidence for this theory
Evidence for this theory….
  • Gurucharri and Selman – longitudinal study – supports the idea that we all develop over time
    • Doesn’t show evidence for particular stages
    • Ethics
  • Selman – girls making puppets and putting on a show (working with others) then tested on dilemma’s – supports idea that how we perform on dilemmas (where we are in the levels) predicts our real world behaviour.
    • All girls, gender bias
    • Ethics
  • Theory is nature based only, cannot take acount of any outside factors:
  • Burack et al (2006) – mal treated children do not develop as well other children – cannot be explained by Selman.
  • How do children move from stage to stage?
  • Too rigid
  • Cannot explain developmental disorders
mirror neuron theory
Mirror Neuron Theory

Gallese et al (1996) discovered this by accident when looking at the firing of specific neurons.

They found specific neurons in F5 area of Pre motor cortex fire when monkeys perform an action – grasping a cup.

The same neurons fire when a monkey observes someone else performing the action.

Lead to the question of whether this occurs in humans.

Cannot insert electrodes in the same way – unethical – use of fMRI.

mirror neuron theory1
Mirror Neuron Theory

Biological Theory of social cognition

Mirror neuron system is how we understand the actions and emotions of others, how we learn via imitation (social learning theory) and how we determine the intentions of other people.

Mirror neurons underlie development of ToM

Autistic children have a deficient Mirror Neuron System which is why they cannot develop ToM and thus causes Autism.

do humans have a mirror neuron system dinstein
Do humans have a mirror neuron system? (Dinstein)

Can a mirror neuron system explain how we understand the behaviour and emotional states of other people? Phillips (disgust)

Does it underlie development of ToM

and link to autism?

How do we know if mirror neurons are

involved in understanding actions and

not just recognising them? Ulmita

  • Copied Gallese’s original trial but with humans
  • They observed and completed hand actions
  • Same brain areas were active
  • Support for idea that it is in humans too and is involved in recognising other peoples actions.
  • Only looks at a recognition action, nothing to say that they understand the action
  • Can only look at brain area not specific neurons as unethical with humans.
ulmita et al 2001
Ulmita et al (2001)

Neurons fire as seeing action

Condition 1 – Monkey see’s human completing an action

Neurons fire showing they understand action is happening even though they can’t see it

Condition 2 – Monkey see’s human start action but completion is behind screen

Condition 3 – Monkey see’s human put hand behind screen (no action)

No neurons fire as no action has taken place

Extrapolation, ethics!!!!

  • Participants (humans) were exposed to disgusting stimuli
  • They were also shown pictures of people with a disgusted look on their face.
  • The same brain areas were active.
  • Supporting the idea that the mirror neuron system is involved in understanding other peoples emotions

- Only looked at brain area not specific neurons