Chapter 3: Social Cognition: How We Think about the Social
• Social cognition is how people think about themselves and social world; more
specifically, how people select, interpret, remember, and use social information to
make judgements and decisions.
• Two kinds of social cognition:
o Automatic cognition – quick and effortless.
o Controlled thinking – more effortful and deliberate.
• Often, automatic and controlled modes of social cognition work very well
On Automatic Pilot: Low-Effort Thinking
• Automatic thinking is thought that is nonconscious, unintentional, involuntary,
People as Everyday Theorists: Automatic Thinking with Schemas
• Automatic thinking helps understand new situations by relating them to prior
• People use schemas – mental structures that organize knowledge about social
o Influence information we notice, think about, and remember.
o Encompasses knowledge about many things – other people, ourselves,
social roles, and specific events.
• Schema influence way which we process information.
o Evidence that information relevant to particular schema processed more
quickly than information unrelated to it.
• Gardner, MacIntyre, and Lalonde (1995):
o English-speaking students to rate characteristics of various groups.
Participants faster when rating stereotypical characteristics of each group
than when ratings its nonstereotypical characteristics.
• Kunda, Sinclair, Griffin (1997):
o Given a label, we fill in blanks w/ all kinds of schema-consistent
Stereotypes about Race and Weapons
• When schemas applied to members of social group such as gender or race, they
are referred to as stereotypes.
• Payne, Shimizu, and Jacoby (2005):
o People significantly likely to misidentify tool as gun when preceded by
black face than when preceded by white face.
• Correll, Park, Judd, and Wittenbrink (2002):
o Participants likely pull trigger when person in picture was black, whether
or not he was holding a gun. (“Shooter bias”) o These effects not limited to laboratory.
• Eberhardt et al. (2004):
o When crime object, such as gun, displayed on computer screen, white
university students and police officers quicker to identify black faces than
• Schaller, Park, and Mueller (2003):
o Negative stereotype of blacks came mind more quickly for participants
who seated in dark room, compared w/ participants who seated in brightly
The Function of Schemas: Why Do We Have Them?
• Schemas typically very useful for helping us organize and make sense of world
and to fill in gaps of our knowledge.
• Korsakov’s syndrome – difficulty forming schemas.
• Important to have continuity, to relate new experiences to our past schemas, that
people who lose this ability invent schemas where none exist.
• As long as people have reason to believe schemas are accurate, perfectly
reasonable to use them to resolve ambiguity.
Schemas as Memory Guides
• Fiske & Taylor (1991); Kunda (1999); Lenton & Bryan (2005):
o Considerable evidence that people more likely remember information that
is consistent w/ their schemas.
• Barry Corenblum (2003):
o Students attending school in Brandon, Manitoba, more likely remember
positive behaviours performed by white child than Native child and
negative behaviours performed by Native child rather than white child.
o European-Canadian and Native-Canadian children showed these memory
• Schema-consistent details suggest schemas become stronger and more resistant to
change over time.
Which Students Are Applied? Accessibility and Priming
• Social world full of ambiguous information open to interpretation.
• Accessibility – extent to which schemas and concepts are at forefront of minds
and therefore likely be used when making judgements about social world
(Higgins, 1996; Sanna & Schwarz, 2004; Todorov & Bargh, 2002; Wyer & Srull,
• Schemas accessible for three reasons:
o Some schemas chronically accessible due to past experience meaning
schemas are constantly active and ready to use to interpret ambiguous
situations (Chen & Anderson, 1999; Dijksterhius & van Knippengerg,
1996; Higgins & Brendl, 1995; Rudman & Borgida, 1995).