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Chapter 4

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PSYC 215
John Lydon

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 complete ◦ 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 reach ◦ 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 InformationAvailable 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 assessments 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 expressions ▪ two dimensions stand out • positive vs. negative ◦ trustworthy vs. untrustworthy ◦ aggressive vs. not aggressive • power ◦ 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 TheAccuracy 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 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 others ◦ 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 PublicAffairs, 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 times • 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 victimization ▪ 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 DifferentialAttention 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 quickly and thoroughly; organisms that fail to do so put themselves at risk • Dijksterhuis &Aarts, 2003; Hansen & Hansen, 1988; Pratto & John, 1991 ◦ see also Baumeister, Bratlavsky, Finkenauer & Vohs, 2001; Frogas, 1992; Rozin & Royzman, 2001 ▪ people may be more vigilant for potential threat than for potential benefits How Information is Presented • slight variations in the presentation of information (how and when the information is presented) can have profound effects on our judgements Order Effects • primacy effect – the disproportionate influence on judgement by information presented first in a body of evidence • recency effect – the disproportionate influence on judgement by information presented first in a body of evidence • S.Asch, 1946 ◦ study on order effects ◦ asked people to evaluate a hypothetical individual described in the following terms: ◦ intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, and envious ▪ descending from extremely positive to extremely negative ◦ one group read original order, one group read the opposite order ▪ first group had a favorable impression of the subject, second group had a much less favorable impression of the subject • order effects arise for a number of reasons ◦ information processing limitations ◦ initial information affects how later processing is construed ▪ primacy effects • often result from a tendency to pay great attention to stimuli presented early on, but then to lose focus during the presentation of later items ▪ recency effects • typically result when the last items are easiest to recall Framing Effects • framing effects – the influence on judgement resulting from the way information is presented, such as the order of presentation or how it is worded ◦ order effects are a type of “pure” framing effect ◦ the way information is presented can “frame” the way it is processed and understood • frame of reference is changed even though the content stays the same Spin Framing • not limited to the order in which information is being presented • politics ◦ “pro-choice” vs. “right to life” ◦ “terrorists” vs. “freedom fighters” ◦ “illegal aliens” vs. “undocumented workers” ◦ “torture” vs. “enhanced interrogation” ◦ “war department” vs. “defense department” ◦ “death tax” vs. “inheritance tax” • because it is so easy to slant public opinion questions in a particular direction, it is important to know who sponsored the poll, as well as the exact wording of the questions Positive and Negative Framing • the mixed nature of most things means that they can be described, or framed, in ways that emphasize the good or the bad, with predictable effects on people's judgements • effects judgements and decisions of the greatest consequence • because negative information tends to attract more attention and have a greater psychological impact than positive information, information framed in negative terms tends to elicit a stronger response than information framed in positive terms • Tversky & Kahneman, 1981 ◦ examine people's reactions to losses versus unrealized gains ▪ people hate losing things much more than failing to have them in the first place Temporal Framing • construal-level theory – a theory that outlines the relationship between psychological distance and the concreteness vs. abstraction of thought ◦ psychologically distant actions and events are thought about in abstract terms; actions and events that are close at hand are thought about in concrete terms ▪ most events at a low level of abstraction, rich in concrete detail ▪ higher levels of abstraction – rich in meaning but stripped of detail • things that sound great in abstraction can turn us off when we think of them as imminent versions of the event, fleshed out in every concrete detail • Trope & Liberman, 2010 ◦ things can be close or far in time, close or far in space, and close or far socially
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