Social Cognition

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					Social Cognition
    Geir Overskeid
          Social cognition:
      What are we talking about?
• Definition: How we think about social
  relations and the things that influence those
   • This definition comes in many variations
• The need for social cognition is often
  thought to have been a driving force behind
  the evolution of human cognitive abilities
      Two important concepts
• Intuition (System 1)
• Reasoning (System 2)
     Another important concept
• Accessibility, not to be confused with
• All aspects of a situation, a thing, a person
  tend not to be equally accessible to an
  observer. What is easily accessible often
  becomes the basis for judgments and
  decisions that are mainly intuitive (Syst. 1)
• Most decisions are mainly intuitive
The fundamental error of attribution
• In explaining the behavior of others, we tend to
  overestimate the importance of the actor’s stable
  dispositions and underestimate the power of the
• The fundamental attribution error has been found
  wherever researchers have looked, but seems
  somewhat weaker in East Asia
• The exception: Explaining one’s own behavior.
  Her the pattern may be the other way around.
          Intuitive judgments
• Intuitive judgments leave little room for
  uncertainty: People often feel strongly that
  ”this is the way it is.”
• Normally, only one alternative is
• Heuristics form the basis of many intuitive
• Heuristics are often useful, but can cause
  bias and lead to irrational behavior
   • Behavior is rational when it is efficient in
    reaching the actor’s goal
• We often overestimate the degree to which
  we engage in reasoning. To a great extent,
  choices are based on heuristics and
 An example: Representativeness
• The heuristic known as representativeness may
  strongly influence our assumptions regarding a
  person’s group membership, or as to whether she
  resembles a stereotype. Let us look at Linda:
   • Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and
     very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a
     student, she was deeply concerned with issues
     of discrimination and social justice, and also
     participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
• Is Linda a bank teller? Is she a feminist and a bank
    Priming - two modern classics

John Bargh et al. (1996):
• ”Old age” is unconsciously primed by way of a
  scrambled sentence test. Result: Participants
  walk more slowly.
• White participants who have subliminally seen
  the face of a young Black male become more
  hostile than those who have subliminally seen
  the face of a young White male.
• If people feel they should compensate for
  irrelevant influence, they often compensate
  too strongly. Some examples:
   • Priming (contrast)
   • Mood
   • Liking
   • When there’s nothing to compensate for
     Other aspects of intuition
• A photograph may be sufficient basis for a
  good appraisal of personality
• Other people’s facial expressions may affect
  us unconsciously
• Lacking this kind of intuition may increase
  a person’s risk of having social problems
            Nosce te ipsum
• People often aren’t very good at
  understanding the causes behind their
• The basis we have for understanding our
  own behavior may not be much better than
  our starting point for understanding others
       Consciousness as cause
• Simply thinking about an action before it
  takes place may make people feel they
  caused it
• Even “willed” processes may not be
  governed by conscious will
    What can be unconscious?
• Most things
  • John Bargh assumes that more 99 per cent of
    human behavior is unconsciously controlled
• Consciousness probably exists primarily for
  planning and simulation
      What can be unconscious?
  Among other things:
• Causes
   • What affects my mood? Why did I fall in love? How
     did I get that idea?
• Processes
   • How did I solve that problem? Why does a situation
     look the way it does to me?
• Social learning
   • I thought I learnt A, but it was B instead, and also C.
      It takes one to know one
• We overestimate the extent to which other
  people understand or think the way we do
• Exception: Self-serving bias. We tend to see
  our strengths as unique. Our weaknesses, on
  the other hand, we see as more common
  than they really are.

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