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PSYC 2310 Study Guide - Final Guide: Availability Heuristic, Social Cognition, Old Age

Course Code
PSYC 2310
Saba Safdar
Study Guide

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Social Psychology Exam Review
Chapter 5 – Social Cognition
We naturally want to make good decisions, we’re confronted almost constantly
with decisions, making it truly impossible to think about and process all the
relevant information in a careful and deliberative way.
People often rely on automatic thinking, a type of decision making process that
occurs at an unconscious or automatic level and is entirely effortless and
unintentional. This type of thinking relies on mental short cuts known as
heuristics, which can save us time when making decisions but can also lead to
inaccurate judgments
Controlled or effortful thinking is thinking that is effortful, conscious and
intentional, which leads to more accurate judgments. We use this thinking when
we have time and motivation
Social cognition is how people think about the social world, and in particular how
people select, interpret and use information to make judgments about the world
How can shortcuts lead to errors in thinking about the
Intuition is a decision-making shortcut in which we rely on out instinct instead of
relying on more objective information
Example: Nasheen is selecting a group of summer interns for the computer center.
Although he has reviewed each applicant’s file, he also interviews each candidate
personally because he believes his intuition is the best way to choose good
The availability heuristic refers to a mental shortcut in which people make a
judgment on how easily they can bring something to mind
People are more influenced by the salience of events than how often they occur
(think of words that start with the letter k, now think of as many words that have
their 3rd letter as k. The words that have the 3rd letter a k are much more hard to
think of)
The availability heuristic explains why people are often highly concerned about
things that they don’t really need to worry about, whereas they fail to worry about
things that are most likely to occur

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People are biased by information that is easy to recall, vivid, well publicized and
Example: Pankraz refuses to let his son go on a camping trip with his Boy Scout
troop (due to fear of him contracting Lyme disease from a tick). However, he
typically ignores his sons failure to wear a helmet while bicycling
The impact of past experiences
Past experiences activate particular schemas meaning mental structures that
organize our knowledge about the world and influence how we interpret people
and events
Schemas allow us to categorize information around us in an efficient manner
Stereotypes are an example of a schema. Your stereotype of a professor might be
a knowledgeable, industrious, and absent-minded person. This is your schema of
a professor
A Person schema are beliefs about other people, their traits and goals
Self schema refers to our memory, inferences, and information about ourselves
Role schemas refer to behaviors that are expected of people in particular
occupations or social positions
Event schemas refer to scripts that we have for well-known situations, and are
also known simply as scripts
Content-free schemas are rules about processing information. This schema is
not particular about categories, but more like logical formulation about how
contents are related
The role of unconscious priming
This type of priming – meaning the process by which recent experiences increase
the accessibility of a given trait or concept – can even occur at an unconscious or
subliminal level
Priming can influence peoples physical behavior in a variety of spheres; for
example, performance of a motor task or the seeking of help in an interpersonal
The information available
The amount of information we can bring to mind about a given event contributes
to the availability effect
We often have much more information about certain outcomes than other
outcomes, and we mistakenly judge the likelihood of an event occurring on the
amount of information we have
The representativeness heuristic refers to a tendency to perceive someone or
something as belonging to a particular group or category on the basis of how
similar this object is to a typical object in that category

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Although in some cases using the representativeness heuristic allows us to quickly
and efficiently reach answers, in other cases, relying on this shortcut can lead to
errors, or at least delay in arriving at the correct answer
Example: When the kids were picking teams, Kasimir picked the new kid, Enzo,
because he was big and he looked as if he could look after himself on the ice, He
ignored the fact that Enzo had just come from Italy and he couldn’t skate
Base-rate fallacy
Errors in both the availability and representativeness heuristics occur because
people tend to ignore the probability of a given event, a phenomenon called the
base-rate fallacy
This fallacy explains why people are often very nervous about dying in a plane
crash but they’re rarely concerned about dying in a car accident
Our reliance on the base-rate fallacy can lead us to make unwise decisions
Example: Samantha is very scared of airplane travel, so she mostly travels by car.
Although it takes much longer to drive long distances, Samantha feels its worth it
given the added safety provided by car travel
Anchoring and adjustment
The accessibility of information can also lead to reliance on the anchoring and
adjustment heuristic, in which people rely on an initial starting point in making
an estimate and then fail to adequately adjust their original decision
In some cases, it makes sense to rely on the initial anchor, For example when
buying a house, the asking price (the initial anchor) is probably very relevant
because it is based on a realistic appraisal of the selling prices of similar houses.
However, people rely on anchors to make their judgments even when the anchor
should clearly have no impact on their decision
Example: When Jane is asked whether she brushes her teeth more than 10 times a
week, she estimates brushing about 13 times a week. But when she is later asked
whether she brushes her teeth more than 20 times a week, she estimates brushing
about 17 times a week
Counterfactual thinking/simulation
The term counterfactual (relating to or expressing what has not happened)
thinking refers to the tendency to imagine alternative outcomes to various events,
which in turn can influence how people experience both positive and negative
The amount of delight or regret you feel depends on how easily you can imagine a
different outcome. When its easy to imagine a different outcome, you experience a
stronger emotional reaction to the outcome
The use of counterfactual thinking explains why people who feel that they could
have “undone” a negative event (the death of a loved one) experience more
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