Social Cognition - Chapter 13:
*From the Intra- to the Interpersonal. Bridging the Gap from Cognition to Behavior.
-Social cognition prepares us for social interaction and instructs us as to what is appropriate.
-The Zimbardo prison experiment suggests that categorizing people in the environment according to roles
will produce the behaviors consistent with those roles (schemas).
-Triggering these mental representations thus predisposes people to act in ways consistent with the
expectancies suggested by the schemas.
-Action can be initiated upon the mere detection of appropriate cues associated with that action, without
any conscious decision to act needing to intervene.
Construal and Behavior
-The most obvious determinant of how one acts is how one construes the social environment.
-The construal of a given person is now shaped not only by his/her own expectancies and goals, but by the
behavior of the person with whom he/she is interacting.
-In this interaction sequence, the construal of others is said to be affected by the goals and the expectancies
of the perceiver, which give meaning to the behavior of the person being perceived. However, the perceiver
often remains unaware even of the fact that expectancies regarding the other person exist.
-People’s actions, guided by their expectancies, constrain the nature of interactions by revealing information
about themselves to others, and thus setting parameters for how these interactions will unfold.
The Interaction Sequence
-The effect of construal on the interaction sequence is felt at several points. The sequence begins with the
goals that each individual brings to a particular encounter.
-In addition, there are the goals that are triggered in the perceiver by his/her current placement in that
particular social environment.
-In the second step of the interaction sequence, the perceiver has selected a person to interact with and has
detected certain features and behaviors of that person, which then allow the perceiver to form an initial
impression of the interactant. From these initial impressions flow a set of expectancies about the interactant
– perhaps expectancies based on a stereotype about the person’s group membership.
-The third step of the sequence takes us back to the notion of predictive veridicality. Here, an inference is a
means to anticipate behavior and formulate appropriate behavior in response to the expected action of
others. Based on the impression formed and the expectancies/stereotype triggered at the prior step, the
perceiver acts toward the interactant in ways that are designed to achieve his/her goals and that are
consistent with the expectancies the perceiver has generated about the interactant.
-Thus, actions toward another person are not necessarily a response to the actions of that person, but are
generated as a response to the perceiver’s own anticipation of that person’s actions-his/her expectancies of
what the interactant will be like.
-In the next step of the sequence, the interactant interprets the meaning of the perceiver’s action and
responds with what he/she feels is an appropriate response.
-Behavioral Confirmation: The expectancy held about another person has led the other person to act in a
way that confirms the expectancy.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
-A perceiver’s expectancies can actually cause someone else to act in line with those expectancies.
-Study: Rosenthal & Jacobson (1968) gave expectancies to school-teachers about the intellectual abilities of
their students. Teachers were told that some students in the class were identified by a test as ‘bloomers,’ or
kids who would soon show strong increases in intellectual performance. They hypothesized that the process
in the interaction sequence would cause children labeled as bloomers to bloom. Teachers would have
expectancies triggered about those students’ superior ability. Result: Students labeled as bloomers had
significantly larger increases in IQ.
1 Stereotype Threat
-Word and colleagues (1974) showed how stereotypes lead to a deficit in the performance of members of a
stigmatized group – a deficit that has nothing to do with the actual ability of the group members. This deficit
is implicit responses to the behaviors of others, and these behaviors are biased by the stereotypes the others
-A belief that others have negative expectancies of the group causes the group members to perform below
their actual ability because they feel threatened by this stereotype.
-Steele has defined stereotype threat as an anxiety or threat that arises when one is in a situation or doing
something for which a negative stereotype about one’s group applies.
-Two debilitating effects of stereotype threat: 1- Decrease in performance on tasks relevant to the threat. 2-
Disidentification: A reconceptualization of the self and of one’s values so as to remove the domain as a self-
identity (not caring about the domain in relation to the self).
Expectancies and Construal of the Environment
-Anxiety associated with possibly fulfilling a negative cultural stereotype is one way to explain the decreased
performance observed in members of stigmatized groups in domains relevant to the stigma.
-The notion that situations need to be construed, and that construal determines behavior, can be used to
explain why members of a stereotyped group underperform on tasks relevant to their particular group
stereotype (It could be that thinking about the group stereotype alters the way in which one frames the task
-Bushman and colleagues (2001) have proposed that the accessibility of a theory about the meaning of a
behavior will determine how people construe the appropriateness of the behavior at a given point in time,
and determine whether they perform a behavior.
-It stands to reason that if priming people with a trait that leads them to assimilating their own behavior to
match the primed trait, then, priming people with an exemplar should be expected to trigger contrast rather
than assimilation. Thus, people should act in the manner opposite that implied by a prime if the prime is an
-In one study, participants were primed with an exemplar of an elderly person. It was found that
participants, when primed with this exemplar, walked faster following the prime – a contrast effect.
-Action can be affected by a prime that is relevant to that action if the goal to act is also triggered.
-To illustrate that priming a goal can have an impact on behavior if and only if people are already motivated
to act, Strahan and colleagues (2002) examined whether people primed with ‘thirsty’ would increase
beverage consumption, but only among people who were already thirsty. When participants were not
thirsty, priming did not matter. However, when people were thirsty, they drank more when primed with
thirst-related concepts as opposed to neutral concepts. This research shows that priming concepts related to
action only guides behavior if goals relevant to the act are also primed.
-Goal Contagion: Automatically adopting the goals that others seem to be pursuing. Once a goal is activated
through goal contagion, it can influence behavior without the perceiver’s awareness of this influence.
-How we act toward others is determined by the intention and causes we think underlie their actions.
2 -Stone (2001) proposed that the various ‘selves’ posited by self-discrepancy theory can each be used as a
standard for evaluating one’s own behavior. If the ‘ought’ self is primed, this should establish a different
standard than if the ‘actual’ self is primed. These differences in one’s accessible standards should lead to
differences in how one construes one’s own behavior.