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Chapter 4

PSYC 215 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: Claudia Schiffer, Social Cognition, Pluralistic Ignorance

Course Code
PSYC 215
John Lydon

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Chapter Four
Social Cognition:
Thinking about People and Situations
five critical aspects of social cognition
our judgements are only as effective as the quality of information on which they are
based, yet the information available to us in everyday life is not always accurate or
the way information is presented, including the order in which is is presented and how it
is framed, can affect the judgements we make
we don't just passively take in information. We often actively seek it out, and a
pervasive bias in our information-seeking strategies often distorts the conclusions we
our preexisting knowledge, expectations, and mental habits can influence the construal
of new information nd thus substantially influence judgement
two mental systems – intuition and reason – underlie social cognition, and their complex
interplay determines the judgements we make
Why Study Social Cognition?
Study of how people think about the social world and arrive at judgements that help them
interpret the past, understand the present, and predict the future
if we want to know how a person will react in a given situation, we must understand how
the person experiences that situation
mistakes are important in social psychology
they provide useful clues as to how people think about other individuals and make
inferences about them
perceptual psychologists study illusions to illuminate the general principles of perception
psycholinguists study errors in speech to learn about speech production
mistakes reveal a great deal about how a system works by showing its limitations
The Information Available for Social Cognition
understanding others depends on accurate information, BUT:
sometimes people have little or no information on which to base their assessments
sometimes the available information is misleading
sometimes the way people acquire information affects their thinking unduly
Minimal Information: Inferring Personality from Physical Appearance
snap judgement – a quick judgement made about someone with minimal information
J. Willis & A. Todorov, 2006
study on snap judgements
showed participants a large number of faces and had them rate how attractive,
aggressive, likeable, trustworthy, and competent each person seemed
some participants were given as much time as they could to make each rating
estimates used as a standard of comparison
some participants were asked to make the same ratings, but after seeing each face
for a whole second, half a second, or a tenth of a second
hurried judgements corresponded remarkably well to those reflective

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Perceiving Trust and Dominance
Todorov, Said, Engell & Oosterhof, 2008
study on what people think they see in another's physical appearance
had participants rate a large number of photographs of different faces on the personality
dimensions people most often mention when describing faces; all the faces are neutral
two dimensions stand out
positive vs. negative
trustworthy vs. untrustworthy
aggressive vs. not aggressive
confident vs. bashful
dominant or submissive
people are set to make highly functional judgements
positive vs. negative – whether they should be approached or avoided
power – where they are likely to stand in a status or power hierarchy
trustworthy – based on the shape of the eyebrows and eye socket
dominant – hyper-masculine features
e.g. very pronounced jaw
trustworthy and non-dominant = baby faces
adults with baby-faced feature such as large round eyes, a large forehead,
high eyebrows and a rounded, relatively small chin are assumed to possess
many of the characteristics commonly associated with the very young
judged to be relatively weak and submissive
adults with small eyes, a small forehead, and an angular, prominent chin are
assumed to be strong, competent, and dominant
K. Lorenz, 1950
cuteness of the young in many mammalian species triggers a hardwired,
automatic response that helps ensure that the young and the helpless receive
adequate care
Zebrowitz & McDonald, 1991
baby-faced individuals receive more preferential treatment in courts, but have a
harder time being seen as “appropriate” for adult jobs such as banking
The Accuracy of Snap Judgements
some investigators report moderately high correlations between the judgements made about
people based on their appearance and those individual's own reports of how approachable,
extraverted and powerful they are
similar studies have found no connection between judgements based on facial appearance
and self-reports of agreeableness and conscientiousness
sometimes it is more important to see what people in general think about a person, rather
than predict what a person's true personality is
snap judgements predict consensus opinion rather well
Misleading Firsthand Information: Pluralistic Ignorance
pluralistic ignorance – misperception of a group norm that results from observing people
who are acting at variance with their private beliefs out of a concern for the social
consequences; actions that reinforce the erroneous group norm
because peoples behavior sometimes springs from a desire to create an impression that is

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not a true reflection of their beliefs or traits, and such discrepancies can lead to
predictable errors in judgement
people conclude from the illusory group that they are deviant, and this misperception
reinforces the difficulty of acting in accordance with what they really believe
Matza, 1964
gang members have been known to privately confess their objections to brutal
initiation procedures and the overall lack of concern for human life; they are
afraid to say so because they would be ridiculed/rejected by their peers
N. Shelton & J. Richeson, 2005
study of pluralistic ignorance with profound implications for interactions
between members of different ethnic groups
people recognized their own failure to initiate conversation; people assumed
others didn't initiate contact because of lack of interest in establishing friendships
across ethnic lines
Misleading Secondhand Information
Ideological Distortions
most of us have an ideological agenda, or a desire to foster certain beliefs or behaviors in
leads us to, knowingly or unknowingly, accentuate some elements of a story and
suppress others
Distortions in the Service of Entertainment: Overemphasis on Bad News
one of the most pervasive reasons for second-hand accounts is the desire to entertain
the desire to entertain distorts the message people receive through mass media
tendency to overreport negative, violent and sensational news
“if it bleeds, it leads”
Center for Media and Public Affairs, 2000; Marsh, 1991; Sheley & Askins, 1981
80% of all crime is violent, according to the news media
in the real world, only 20% of all crime is violent
Garofalo, 1981; Windhauser, Seiter & Winfree, 1991
there is just as much news coverage during the best of times than there is at the worst of
Gerbner, Gross, Morgan & Signorielli, 1980
the world as it is presented in motion pictures and television dramas is even more violent
than the real world OR than news coverage claims
Effects of the Bad News Bias
can lead people to believe that they are more at risk than they actually are
positive correlation between the amount of time spent watching television and the fear of
Doob & MacDonald, 1979; Gerbner et al., 1980
the correlation between TV-viewing habits and perceived vulnerability to crime
is substantially reduced among people living in low-crime areas, but it remains
strong among those living in high-crime areas
Differential Attention to Positive and Negative Information
we may be more attentive to negative information than to positive informatino because the
former had more implications for our well-being
some negative events constitute threats to survival and therefore need to be attended to
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