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Intro Soc - Ch.3.pdf

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Western University
Psychology 2720A/B
Patrick Brown

Printable View of: Chapter 3 Print Save to File File: Overview Overview Chapter 3 covers the topic of social cognition, which is defined in the textbook as the study of how information about people is processed and stored. Another way to characterize social cognition is that it refers to cognitive processes as they relate to social behaviour. By cognitive processes, we include attention, information processing, impression formation, and memory. Social cognition addresses such questions as: How do we process information about other people? How do we store information about people in our memory? How do we retrieve information about people from our memory? These are complex and challenging questions, but social psychologists have begun to provide some answers. The purpose of our supplementary material, as explained in our notes for Chapter 1, will be to clarify or extend some of the concepts in the chapter and to provide additional examples, both from the laboratory (experiments) and from real life (applications). We will organize the supplementary material in a manner that parallels the chapters principal headings. File: How Does the Mind Work How Does the Mind Work? The key concept in social cognition is schema. A schema is a cognitive structure that contains our knowledge about a person, object, or event. Another, more everyday term for a schema is concept. Schemas contain information about the key features of the object or category, as well as simple rules about how the object or category operates. Your schema of dogs probably includes that they bark, are sociable and loyal, can bite when angry or frightened, and wag their tails when they are happy. The basic function of a schema is to categorize objects in ways that provide meaning and predictability. When we encounter an object, we must decide what it is before we can behave effectively toward it. Once we have categorized an object, we assume that the characteristics in our schema apply to this object. So when we categorize an animal as a dog, we expect it to bark, be sociable and loyal, and so on. In other words, schemas provide expectancies about what will happen or what an object will be like. This aspect of schemas is sometimes referred to as going beyond the information given. Chapter 3 describes a number of studies that showed how schemas can affect impressions and memory. We want to describe another experiment, which nicely illustrated how schemas can influence the processing of information about individuals. The study was conducted by Thomas Holtgraves, Thomas Srull, and Daniel Socall and published in 1989. Participants read a fictional conversation between two men. These men were described as businessmen. Some participants learned before reading the conversation that one man (Robert) was the boss of a company, and the other man (Michael) was his employee. Other participants learned before reading the conversation that the two men were equal in status in the company. Thus, the schema of either boss/subordinate or co-workers was activated before participants read the conversation. Two other groups of participants did not learn until after reading the conversation that Robert was the boss or the two men were equals. That is, the schema of boss or co- workers was not activated until after participants read the conversation. Participants memory for information from the conversation was tested 2 days later. Those who believed Robert to be the boss recalled more assertive comments and actions than did those who believed the two men to be equals, but only when the schema was activated before reading the conversation. That is, participants memory about the conversation was consistent with a schema that was activated before exposure to the material, but not with a schema that was activated after exposure to the material. Presumably, the schema in the before conditions influenced what participants noticed and/or how they interpreted the mens comments. Schemas are more likely to be used to interpret the world when they are highly accessible, whichmeans that they are easily and quickly brought to mind (activated). Schemas can be highly accessible for a variety of reasons, including that they have been used recently and that they constitute aspects of the environment that are important to the perceiver. These two reasons correspond to specific terms in social cognition: priming and chronic accessibility. Lets start with priming. Have you ever noticed that something can be on your mind all day? Perhaps you are wearing a new sweater and you find yourself looking at everyones clothes throughout the day. Or perhaps you had a fight with your girlfriend/boyfriend the previous evening, and you find yourself noticing how many happy couples there seem to be at the mall, at the grocery store, and so on. In these cases, an event or behaviour (wearing a new sweater; having a fight) activated the schemas of clothes or romantic relationships, which then influenced what you noticed throughout the day. This process of one event bringing to mind a schema that is subsequently used in other situations is called priming. It is also the case that some schemas are more accessible, in general, than other schemas for a particular individual. A woman might think of herself as having a good sense of humour and being funny, and she might value this aspect of herself. In this case, she may also tend to notice whether or not other people are funny. This would be an example of chronic accessibility the schema of funny is chronically accessible for the woman across settings and targets. The textbook addresses the possibility that there are cultural differences in chronically accessible schemas. In social psychological research, one type of schema that has received a lot of attention is stereotypes, which represent our schemas for social groups. Specifically, stereotypes reflect the characteristics that a perceiver associates with a particular group. We all have stereotypes of occupational groups (e.g., police, teachers), religious or ethnic groups (e.g., First Nations Peoples, French Canadians), and many other categories (e.g., the elderly, overweight people). Stereotypes provide expectancies about how members of the group will behave, thereby guiding our actions toward them. For example, if an individuals stereotype of elderly peopl
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