PSY 220 CH.4
Social Cognition: ThinkingAbout People and Situations
• Our judgements are only as effective as the quality of the 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 it 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 pre-existing knowledge, expectations, and mental habits can influence the construal
of new information and thus substantially influence judgement.
• 2 mental systems – intuition and reason – underlie social cognition, and their complex
interplay determines the judgements we make.
Why Study Social Cognition?
• Field of social cognition is the study of how people think about the social world and
arrive at judgements that help them interpret the past, understand the present, and predict
• Social stimuli rarely influence a person’s behaviour directly, it often happens indirectly
through the way it is interpreted or construed.
The InformationAvailable For Social Cognition
• Social cognition depends first of all on information.
Minimal Information: Inferring Personality from PhysicalAppearance
• Agreat deal of what we conclude about people based on their faces is determined almost
Perceiving Trust and Dominance
• People often make judgements on whether people should be trusted or avoided, and
where they are likely to stand in a power hierarchy.
• Baby faces often seen as trustworthy. These people are judged to be relatively weak,
naive, or submissive. People with small eyes, small forehead, and angular jaw tend to be
judged to be competent, strong, and dominant.
• Baby faced people are more trusted as a defendant in court, but have a harder time to be
seen as appropriate for ‘adult’jobs such as banking.
TheAccuracy of Snap Judgements
• Current evidence is mixed. Possibilities can explain it. PersonAseen as submissive,
trustworthy, or shy. Person B treats personA as such and therefore personAfalls into the
• People’s snap judgements may hold a kernel of truth, but just a very small kernel.
• Do snap judgements correspond to the majority opinion? Often, yes. (Students rating
professor after 10 seconds compared to those after a semester, often matched judgements)
Misleading Firsthand Information: Pluralistic Ignorance
• First hand information is through direct contact, second hand would be things like gossip,
biographies, textbooks, etc. • First hand information often more accurate, but can be deceptive. Ex. People can change
how they are acting to create a good impression.
• Pluralistic ignorance: Misrepresentation 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.
• Example of pluralistic ignorance is a difficult lecture, prof asks if there are any questions,
you have a question but don’t raise your hand because no one else is.
• Another example involves ethnic differences. Meet someone who is ethnically different,
you don’t interact with them because you assume that they don’t want to cross the ethnic
lines, and vice versa.
Misleading Second-hand Information
• Often rely on second-hand information when making judgements, but we are often
getting a biased opinion.
• Transmitters of information often have an ideological agenda – a desire to foster certain
beliefs or behaviours in others – that leads them to accentuate some element of a story
and suppress others.
Distortions in the Service of Entertainment: Overemphasis on Bad News
• Often there is a desire to entertain others, so our telling of stories focus on that.
• Media often focuses on the bad because it has entertainment value.
Effects of the Bad-News Bias
• Can lead people to believe that they are more at risk then they actually are.
• Correlation between the amount of time spent watching tv and the fear of victimization.
DifferentialAttention to Positive and negative Information
• People often prefer to hear about the bad news, why it is more reported. Often we are
more attentive to negative information than to positive information because the former
has implications on our well-being.
How Information is Presented
• By manipulating the messages people receive about various products through marketing,
producers hope to influence consumers’buying impulses.
• The way information is presented has a great impact on how much influence it has.
• Asking people about their dating lives then happiness led to a stronger correlation than
asking about happiness then dating lives.
• 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
last in a body of evidence.
• Rate an individual using the words intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn,
and envious. Whether the words were presented forward or reverse affected how this
hypothetical person was received. Substantial primacy effect. (SolomonAsch)
• Order effects can arise for various reasons. Ex. Being focused at the start of a
presentation, but not at the end. • Recency effects typically occur because the last items were easier to recall, so they exert
more weight than information earlier on.
• Order effect can also arise because information presented earlier on affects how we judge
• Framing effect: The influence on judgement 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 effects. The frame of reference changed but the
information is exactly the same.
• Spin framing is a less pure form of framing because it varies the content, not just the
order in which it is presented.
• Companies will frame an item such that their better qualities are brought to light. (Better
price, better performance, more grease-fighting power).
• Pro choice vs. the right to live, terrorist vs. freedom fighter, torture vs. enhanced
interrogation, death tax vs. inheritance tax, etc.
Positive and Negative Framing
• Most things in life are a mixture of good and bad, and can be framed in a good or bad
light, with predictable effects on people’s judgements.
• 10% failure rate vs. 90% success rate, 75% lean meat vs. 25% fat, etc.
• Negative information tends to attract more attention and have greater psychological
impact than positive information, so information framed in negative terms tend to elicit a
• Being asked early on if you can help a friend move versus being asked the day of can
affect whether you agree or not, even if you weren’t going to be busy.
• Construal level theory: A theory that outlines the relationship between psychological
distance and the concreteness versus abstraction of thought. Psychologically distinct
actions and events are thought about in abstract terms; actions and events that are close
at hand are thought about in concrete terms.
• Actions and events come framed within a particular time perspective.
• Tend to think of distant events in abstract terms (Being generous (abstract) vs. giving a
panhandler 1$ (concrete)).
• Things that seem great in the abstract are sometimes less thrilling when fleshed out in all
their concrete detail, so we regret making some commitments.
• Abstract can sometimes be less desirable than the concrete as well. Ex. Diet or indulge.
How We Seek Information
• Confirmation bias: The tendency to test a proposition by searching for evidence that
would support it.
• GroupAasked to find information on whether working out before a tennis match led to
winning. Group B asked to find out whether working out before a match led to a loss.
Could look at # to work out and win/lose, and # to not work out and win/lose.
Participants mostly looked for info to confirm their hypothesis. • Almost anything can have some sort of backing information, so only looking for evidence
that supports a hypothesis is not the best thing to do. To truly test something, we must
look for evidence supporting and refuting it.
Motivated Confirmation Bias
• People who fall prey to the confirmation bias often feel no particular motivation to
confirm a particular outcome. They believe to be simply testing the proposition. But they
end up engaging in biased research. Though some people do deliberately search to
confirm their expectations.
Top-Down Processing: Using Schemas to Understand New Information
• Bottom-up processes: “Data-driven” mental processing, in which an individual forms
conclusions based on the stimuli encountered through experience.
• Top-down processes: “Theory-driven” mental processing, in which new information in
light of pre-existing knowledge and expectations.
• Stored information is not filed away bit-by-bit, instead information is stored in coherent
configurations, or schemas, in which related information is stored together.
The Influence of Schemas
• Schemas affect our judgements in many ways, such as directing our attention, structuring
our memories, and influencing our construals.
• Attention is limited, and a situation directs what gains our attention. (Video of basketball
match, asked to count number of passes to people in white shirts, missed gorilla walking
by. Weren’t expecting to see a gorilla, therefore didn’t notice it.)(Simons & Chabris).
• Most likely to remember those things that have captured our attention.
• ‘Attention in the past tense.’
• Many judgements are based off of memories, so schemas are also important for
• Students watch tape of husband and wife at dinner. Told the woman is either a librarian or