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Social cognition

Stimulus→Cognitive, affective, →Behavior
motivational mechanisms
as computers became popular
memory, retrieval
describe mental operations ppl perform as they saw their problems
measurable + systematic methods for cognition


Social cognition

borrowing heavily from cognitive psychology has become dominant paradigm in social psych in the past 20 years


(Schema) Concept

unit of knowledge (category)
Building block of cognition
Can be objects/intangible
Need not be accurate, Great deal of subjectivity
Measure regularity of cognition + consequences for everyday life


What do concepts do?

reason we can even make sense of all info
1.Reduce amount of processing we need to do when too much info available
Rather than scrutinizing every feature, we can activate concept while using cognitive effort elsewhere
Takes time to learn category – experience
Stereotypes: develop ideas about how ppl behave


What do concepts do?

May not always be true, but have functional value – allows us to devote cognitive resources where its more needed 2.Add info when is too little available.
Going beyond info given – meeting strangers – signaling they belong to a category – let our info on category fill in missing info
3.Guide attention, interpretation


Bransford & Johnson (1973)

Concept of laundry disambiguates ambiguous stimuli
Category guides your interpretation + aids in comprehension
Concept activated at time of encoding leads to memory advantage
After – lost ability to encode with info
When available at time of encoding help facilitate meaningful encoding of ambiguous stimuli


Bransford & Johnson (1973)

# ideas recalled
No instructions: 2.8
Washing clothes (before reading): 5.8
Washing clothes (after reading): 2.7


Different concepts applied to the same stimulus input can lead to dramatically different interpretations & behavior

a)features of a house from the perspective of homebuyer vs. burglar. burglar – safety (locks) , homebuyers – luxury aspects (fireplace, moulding)
b)Man crying (did a loved one die/did he win the lottery?) sadness/joy
c)Ambiguous behavior of African-American vs. Caucasian person.


Duncan (1976)

White subjects watched videotape of two men in a discussion. discussion gets heated. begin shouting. shoves the other.
At this point, the tape is stopped, and subjects are asked to characterize what just happened.


Duncan (1976)

What subjects didn’t know: 2 versions of the tape: “shover” was Black/“shover” was White
Black guy was seen as an aggressive
African american disambiguated situation as hostile + aggressive due to activation of african american concept


Duncan (1976)

Incoming info assimilated into concept that is activated.
disambiguation of ambiguous situation in the direction of the activated concept
cognitive processing limit – mind has created shortcuts, autopilot mode


Duncan (1976)

severe costs of using concepts and social categories (stereotypes, “lazy” thinking) + clear benefits – that’s why they’re so prevalent:
1.solidify/reify ambiguous information.
2.conserve cognitive resources.


Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen (1994).

1.Participants asked to read information about several social targets presented on a computer screen while at listening to an audiotape playing completely unrelated material.
2.Either “John” then list of traits (3 seconds each) or “John-skinhead” “John-artist” “John-doctor” then traits.
3.10 traits presented – five were stereotype consistent (“aggressive” “creative” “caring”). 5 traits were neutral.


Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen (1994)

4.In headphones, passage about geography + economy of Indonesia (no one would have prior knowledge about).
5.DV’s: Cued recall task-each target name written on top of paper and they were to recall and correctly attribute as many traits as they could. Also: Given a written quiz about Indonesia to test whether they were listening to the passage


Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen (1994)

How much info about indonesia penetrated
Better memory for traits (caring, knowledgable) if they knew beforehand that it was John the doctor
6.Results: Subjects for whom a stereotype was provided recalled twice as many traits as those without:
Stereotype Present Stereotype Absent
Consistent 4.42 2.08
Neutral 1.83 1.33


Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen (1994)

7.those for whom a stereotype was activated should have more resources available for the listening task.
DV: questions anwered correctly:
Present Absent
8.75 6.66
saves us the trouble of thinking too much about the group + can slide our attention to learning about indonesia
allows us to economize resources



Often concepts arent given easily
How do we know which ones will be activated
1. Salience – surface features powerfully connote specific concept Black man most likely to be noticed among whites, than among men with 1 woman
most unusual thing becomes the most salient


What variables make a concept more likely to be activated?

2. accessibility
Temporary vs. chronic accessibility
Condition: had to solve puzzle where solution was (reckless vs. adventurous)
In reckless condition – rated him more reckless
In adventurous condition – rated him more adventurous


What variables make a concept more likely to be activated?

Ambiguous stimuli disambiguated in direction of the concept activated before hand
Priming: unconscious – no idea their interpretations was affected by puzzle
Irrelevant task but concepts were activated that influenced interpretation
Subliminal: looks like a flash of light, unconsciously able to read word
Superliminal: have some idea what’s going on, but don’t know how they’re connected


What variables make a concept more likely to be activated?

temporary: priming in the lab
chronic: more predisposed to concept
doesn’t matter if from lab or just carry concept activated around with us, still produces assimilation effects
subliminal messaging works at a limited level – not gonna get up to buy a pepsi, but may choose it over coke at supermarket



influence how we understand different traits.
“aggressive” means one thing when referring to the category “lawyers” (verbal)/football players (physical).
Stereotypes can influence how we understand other stereotypes. “Harvard-educated carpenter.”


Jerome Bruner and “The New Look”

Bruner & Postman (1948)—poor vs. rich children asked to estimate (drawing) the size of a quarter.
Results: Poor kids drew much bigger circles
Add own info: nonmaterialistic to reconcile concepts
because they value quarters more, so they perceive it as larger


Jerome Bruner and “The New Look”

3rd element to disambiguate
what we perceive systematically influenced by accessible cognitions
values can influence our perception


Is Colin Fenton famous?: Jacoby et al. (1989):

1.Subjects merely pronounced list of 40 nonfamous names.
2.Either immediately afterwards or 24 hours later, subjects asked to determine from a large list of names (that included the previous, pronounced words) who was famous and who was not.


Is Colin Fenton famous?

More errors in the nonfamous→famous direction for pronounced words. (after delay only)
Misattribute feeling of familiarity to the wrong source
Forgetting needs to occur to create ambiguous
Colin fenton has become more accessible than nonfamous name


How incoming info is encoded: hamilton, katz, leier.

a.subjects read 30 behaviours describing target person.
b.Half explicitly told to form an impression. Half told to memorize list of behaviours
c.After a delay, recall as mamy behaviours as possible



Counterintuitive results: impression > memory
Creating concepts + assimilating subsequent info to make it more meaningful
Try to come up with coherent themes for textbook social phenomenon


Asch: are there lawful principles that govern formation of impressions about ppl?

What are the ways in which ppl form a single unified impression of someone based on knowing many diverse bits of info?
How do ppl combine + integrate such info?
Approach: make models that are simpler, yet reflective messy real life



Elegant control + manipulation. From one study to the next, he made minute changes in the paradigm + eventually certain regularities or laws were uncovered
Insight: in impression formation, the whole is different from the sum of the parts.



Evidence: primacy effect
Impressions have a life of their own: ppl are able to remember their impression of someone long after specific behaviours are long forgotten
Subsequent info is disambiguated by the concepts activated by impressions