Chapter 4 – Social Cognition Summary
Why many conclusions about other people arrive so quickly?
When using prior knowledge on a certain context, it serves as a filter through which all sophisticated
impressions pop up to mind – the heart of stereotyping
Categorizing people that shapes the impressions we make about them
Using prior knowledge as a tool for arriving at a fast judgement instead of thinking deeply about the person
A category of people containing typical features, traits and behaviours, organized together as a structure is
called a Schema. Ex. Baseball players, features and qualities related to this schema
Taking someone specifically in the category and display traits and behaviours that these people exemplify,
forming an impression on how well someone would fit the category – this structure would be called an
What is triggered is a set of rules that dictates how you should behave, when you see someone with
particular features. Ex. An African American. ―black man‖, ―basketball player (maybe?)‖
People have prior knowledge about the form, context, and structure of how to tell a story. New information
and important ones were retained and interpreted in line with their schemas. Stories are told in ways to be
coherent with the culture‘s schemas.
The features making up the category are stored in an abstract form, it describes generalized types as well
as specific instances.
Instead of a stockpile of information, the category consists of a list of possible attributes and behaviours
that can be evidenced by a member of the category.
Gives us an understanding of the connections between the features and the rules that govern the features
A schema should be thought as a pyramidal structure, hierarchically organized with more abstract or
general information at the top and more specific down to the bottom.
schema consistent-processing refers the intuitive effect of having a schema, which will lead to remember
information about one person in a manner consistent with the schema.
Ex. Reading about someone‘s life, and recalling relevant information about them. If you‘re told the person
is majoring in chemistry, you are most likely to recall relevant information in line with his major. Same thing
if he is majoring in Music. Even small details are schema-consistent, like the objects the person was
carrying or the title of his book.
Anderson and Pichert also found influences of schemas on memory. People tend to have a schema-
consistent bias in recall. Imagining themselves as burglars led participants to recall more theft-relevant
items than imagining themselves as homeowners.
Many of the categories in a hierarchical structures have overlap between them, but some don‘t. ex.
Catholics believe in Christ. The two concepts of Catholics and the ―Christ‖ are tightly linked together.
Schemas are therefore relationships among pieces of knowledge, some relationships being stronger than
The exact structure of mental representations is still a topic of debate (whether there is just one structure
or multiple ones)
The knowledge we posses is also in line with what we know about ourselves. Self-concepts are also linked
and organized together.
This information includes abstract information about ourselves, representing our most cherished values,
aspirations, beliefs, specific examples of behaviour in past experiences.
1 The easiest way to respond and elicit a self schemas is answering ―I am ____‖. Any attribute as ―honest,
intelligent, athletic‖ will then be linked to specific attributes and behaviours related to the self.
Markus (1977) examined the influence of processing self-relevant information, where self-schemas have
processing implications in terms of what people remember about their life, how they see the world. It
allows people to make judgements about a schema-relevant behaviour, make predictions about future
behaviour relevant to that attribute or behaviour, and to resist discovering information about themselves
that is contrary to that which their self-schemas would suggest to be true.
Participants were faster at detecting self-relevant words that were in line with their schema (being
independent or dependent). They were also able to provide behaviour relevant explications for a word that
would be related to their schema. (why this word is self-relevant)
In another experiment, Markus illustrated the counter-effect of schemas, where people with self-schemas
are resistant to receiving information that is counterschematic. Participants are more likely to reject and
see invalid information that is inconsistent with their existing schemas.
Rogers, Kuiper and Kirker – individual‘s vast reservoir of self-knowledge can help him/her to embellish
self-relevant material by filling in the blanks and providing extra descriptive richness. They found that the
self is used as an organizing structure for interpreting new information, giving it a deeper memory trace ->
self relevance has benefits in the processing of words, they are better remembered when presented as
part of a self-referencing task.
Role and Relational Schemas
Mental structures are also represented in terms of features of various roles people play, as well as types of
a role schema is the cognitive structure that organizes one‘s knowledge of the rules, norms, and expected
behaviour associated with a particular role, associated with gender, age, race, occupations, relationship
Ex. As a manager you could have one of your friend as your employee, and your role will shift from one to
another when asking him different favours or tasks.
Cohen (1961) wanted participants to remember features of a video, in which they were told a women was
either a librarian or a waitress. Participants recalled relevant information about the women in line with their
role schemas. The librarian was more likely to be remembered as having glasses and liking classical
music. The waitress was more likely to be recalled as a beer drinker.
Baldwin (1992) proposes that relationships are internally represented, where one‘s personal experience
can have an impact on how information about relationships are perceived, interpreted, and remembered.
Relational schemas as cognitive structures that include action sequences, emotions, thoughts, feelings,
motivation and behaviour patterns linked with one particular relationship between two or more social
Triggering the schema will trigger the various cognitive structures mentioned, which will have an impact on
the current information processing.
Ex. You think about your mother when you see someone that looks like her, that schemas can trigger
multiple connections with that image of your mother, without realizing it influences your current thoughts
Baldwin, Carrell and Lopez (1990) tested the unconscious assumption of these cognitive structures and
relational schemas influencing people‘s evalutation of personally relevant information.
When showing disapproving pictures of the pope in a subliminal way, where the participant (Catholic
Woman) isn‘t consciously aware of seeing the image, she rates her self-evaluation on a task lower than
when she is shown a disapproving picture of a stranger.
The unconscious knowledge structure was triggered unconsciously, where emotions and motives
associated with the relationships altered information processing.
2 Event schemas: scripts and frames
Baldwin (1992) asserts that relational schemas include specific actions related to specific patners and
Some schemas dictate specific ways of behaving for specific situations. You act and get food differently
when going to a fast food or a fine dining one.
Such knowledge is known as Scripts
Schank & Abelson (1977) - a script is predetermined, stereotyped, and defines a well-known situation.
Scripts specify procedures of an action (how to act) and semantic knowledge that gives information on
how expectations about an event will occur, and in which order it will.
Ex. You see a line of cashiers in front of you, you order from there, rather than waiting for the waitress as
A fine distinction has to be made between a script and a behaviour.
A script is established with a set of preconditions. There are action rules that are given to an appropriate
social interaction, where and when it happens. The script is triggered by the situation, but only in the ones
that have been experienced before. Scripts are conceived by a series of IF, THEN clauses that dictate
responses in the presence of certain conditions.
A frame is a mental representation that contains information about stereotyped settings or situations, such
as attending the opera, taking an exam, going to work in the morning. Frames are hierarchal, and the top
layer begins with specifying unwavering truths about the situation. Ex. Your office will be there when you
arrive at work.
At the bottom of the frame structure there are slots. They specify the specifics of this particular
instantatiation of the frame. Ex. As soon as you get in your office you get yourself a cup of coffee. Frames
specifies appropriate ways to act under certain versions of situations.
At the top of the hierarchy unwavering truths can sometimes yield unexpected findings (you apartment
burned while you were working).
Prototypes vs Exemplars
A prototype is a representation detailing a typical category member, summarized by the set of most
common features that are most probable to be found in a category member.
Based on experience in the abstraction about the categories, person categories can differ in terms of
people‘s different perspective. Ex. A prototype of an extravert in someone‘s point of view could be
someone loud and intimidating. For someone else it could be someone warm and sociable.
Two individuals can have different prototypes for the same category (different mental images of what the
typical category member looks like)
Cantor and Mischel – personality traits are defined in people‘s head as having certain characteristics. If
people learn and remember information by categorizing according to their prototypes, prototypes will be
used to generate missing information, fill the gaps of knowledge and generate inferences (additional
In a memory span experiment, participants had to recall whether some words related to extraversion or
introversion were presented or not in a brief description of someone.
Participants were more likely to mention words that we NOT present in the description, but that were highly
related to the themes of extraversion or introversion. People therefore use data and features to ―type‖ a
The prototype view of categorizing was challenged by Exemplars.
Medin (1989) suggests exemplars can rather be specific example of actual members, drawing the
information stored in episodic memory.
3 Smith and Zarate (1992) define exemplars as a cognitive representation of an individual that can range
from being a fairly complete list of features of a specific person rather than a general idea about someone
from a particular category. Example: your thoughts about your mother are specific, the conception is
detailed and complete, whereas your thoughts on Barack Obama is inhabited only by a few central
Murphy and Medin (1985) argue that exemplars view better represents category structure, because it can
go beyond the prototype view in explaining how categories function.
Smith and Zarate (1992) propose exemplars as stored representations of specific events and people
(representing certain types or attributes). Each representation includes perceptual attributes of the person,
perceiver‘s inferences, attributions and reactions.
Lingle and Colleges + Cantor and Kihlstrom both argue that mental representations are a combination of
both exemplars and prototypes, it is a blend of each shifting between them. Both abstractions and specific
examples are stored as part of a given person category (same thing for semantic, episodic and procedural
memory in chapter 3.)
When familiarity with a target is low, exemplars are used. As familiarity grows, abstractions are created
and used instead of exemplars. So it generally starts with exemplars until a well-developed prototype
Theory-based mental representations
Chen notes that featural similarity is unclear how the particular set of features that makes members
familiar is decided. Knowledge beyond features is needed to constrain what features are relevant to
Mental representations include theories. They contain ―explanatory or causal forms of knowledge‖.
Developmentally speaking, A child‘s use of theories to explain behaviour is called the ―theory of mind‖,
whereas in social psychology researchers speak of implicit theories that people use to understand
This position is called the theory theory. It is a theory, that people rely on theories. In other words,
everyone have a certain kind of causal processing by giving theories on environmental phenomenons. A
newborn knows to make the distinction between an object and a human. Its theory of persons is already
established in order to make connections with its world.
Wellman (1990) refers to a child‘s developing of the external world as desire theory. It can later be
interpreted as a belief and desire theory. People are not only objects of impulse about that act according to
wants and desires. They are creatures of cognition who have beliefs about the world and who can
internally represent the external world.
The theory about others later develops as being perspective taking. Traits figure prominently in causal
explanations for actions. They become more stable and people can infer causes on someone‘s behaviour.
Dweck (1996) posits that people have implicit theories about performance and ability. It is whether people
have a fixed or a growth mindset on abilities. Some people can attribute stupid behaviour as a fixed part of
someone, or relate it to a lack of practice/adaptation and something potentially changeable.
Implicit theories are culture based. Perceivers in Western society have different implicit theories and
attibutional styles than non-western cultures.
3 theories in person perception
- Implicit personality theories
A set of beliefs about the relationships between traits that leads to their association and spreading
activation. It can be viewed as sets of clusters of traits that form cognitive schemas representing clear-cut
exemplars or prototypes of different personality types.
4 Traits are related among specific dimension, and they will compose the same ―person type‖ that will be
seen as related and causally interconnected.
An organizational structure that contains the attributes associated with a specific person type and the
relationships (causal interconnectedness) between those attributes.
Theories about significant others
Implicit personality theories are what we have about generalized types of people. We also have cognitive
structures for specific people. These specific people, as central to our everyday life, are exemplars.
Significant-other representation have rich associations, many information about the person‘s feelings,
motivations, moods, roles. More knowledge about their internal states. They have a greater structural
complexity than non-significant others.
Chen (2003) examined the theories about significant others, particularly relations were we can induce
causation of behaviour by saying IF, THEN in relation to a close one. Psychological states have to be
included in a if, then sentence in order to be a theory. Feelings, goals and expectancies are included in the
causal link connecting the if and then.
Participants were asked to complete if, then situations with significant others, as the person‘s behaviour
being described. After having completed the if,then clauses, they had to give an explanation of the causal
relationships with because, mostly reflecting a mediating psychological state (hence a theory about the
person). Participants generated more because statements, explanations, for significant others. People
seem to include theories in their mental representations of significant others.
Anderson and Glassman (1996) referred the process of transference, where the qualities and attributes of
a significant other are triggered by a resemblance of a non-significant other. From the psychoanalytic view,
it would be as if you act like you are talking to your father, when discussing to the psychoanalyst.
Cantor and Mischel (1977) – memory test about each fictional target person presented. Remembering
significant information about someone goes in line with your theory of a significant other.
Categorizing behaviour starts with the realization that any action can be categorized in multiple ways
according to the level of specificity with which the action is described. Only one identification for an action
is made at any moment. Ex. Putting a stamp on an envelope and sending a message can have the exact
same meaning as an action, but can be interpreted in different ways depending on people‘s perspective.
The appropriate level of analysis/identification of an action is said to be linked to the difficulty of the action.
Effortful and difficult actions are typically identified in low-level terms, whereas practiced and effortless
actions are typically identified in higher-level terms.
Focusing on mechanistics of a movement is useful when learning a difficult and unfamiliar task. But, if self-
focused attention is drived toward the movement in a skilled domain it can be detrimental.
Baumeister and Steinhilber (1984) – the shift in action identification causes behaviour that is normally
routine to become strained and disrupted. When professionals become too self-conscious about their
performance, they focus on the mechanistic of their practice, which makes them ―choke‖ under pressure.
They make unusual errors because they focus too much on automatically learned actions.
People prefer to think about behaviour at a level appropriate for a comperehensive psychological meaning
to the action. When experimenters force people to think about behaviour in low-level action, people seem
to seek out cues of higher-level meaning in the environment.
Instead of ―moving your lips‖ or ―making utterances‖, we are ―being supportive‖ and ―providing words of
5 Schemas and Cognitive Misers
Cognitive Efficiency or Cognitive Miserliness
- We are constantly taking in huge amounts of stimuli from the world around us, and we need to learn to sort
through all the stimuli and to decide what is important and what is not, what to attend to.
- We need to simplify all the stimuli we perceive
- Two principles that helps to explain why we reply on inferences about new stimuli made from prior
1. The Principle of Limited Capacity
- We have limited cognitive capacity—we cannot process all the info we receive.
- Many cognitive tasks, (eg. Complex decision making) require mental effort that usurps this limited
cognitive capacity—if limits of the system are taxed, performance deficits may result
- A state where so much mental effort has been allocated to a cognitive task that it taxes mental resources,
diminishing the ability to process information relating to other cognitive tasks (aka. Cognitive Busyness)
- When processing capacity is bounded, these will be clear, observable effects that signal this state
- E.g.) inability to continue with tasks previously performed
- To function adequately, one much develop the ability to perform tasks using less effort, and sometimes
with a los of accuracy--- schemas are used as a response
Seeing is Believing
Study by Kruglanski and Freund (1983)—reliance on categories increases when processing capacity is
- Experiment with teachers in Israel, task was to evaluate a composition written by an eighth grader for
- Half of the participants only had 10 min to perform the task (not enough time to accurately evaluate)—
- Other half had an hour to perform the task (plenty of time to accurately evaluate)—Control Group
- Composition given to evaluate in each group was identical except for one thing—half lead to believe it was
written by an Ashkenazi Jew, while the other half by a Sephardi Jew. (Prevailing schemas associated with
superior performance by Ashkenazi Jews)
- Hypothesis: the schema-based expectations would have little impact when no cognitive load existed
(control group), but when capacity was restricted (Cognitive Load), participants begin to see what they
already believed to be true.
- Result: confirmation of hypothesis. Participants rated Ashkenazi student better then Sephardi student, but
only when capacity was limited. When capacity was available, evaluation showed to difference.
- Summery: strains on our ability to give time and effort to our judgment lead to an increase in schema use.
We come to see new information in a manner consistent with expectancies provided by our schema
- ―Seeing is Believing‖—in this case means that se tend to see thins in a way consistent with what we
- This tendency is exacerbated when under cognitive load
- Two important questions arises: 1) do you show overreliance on schema only under cognitive load, or is it
a default way of thinking? 2) if it is default energy, what does it say about human thought process—lazy or
6 2. Principle of Least Effort
- As perceivers, we seek to maximize out outcome with the least amount of work possible ---―satisfying‖
(chap. 3 )
- Label provided by Allport
- This principle answers question 1 from above: information-processing default is to use simplifying