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Crisp 3485 Chapter 02 qxd 10 12 2006 8 49 PM Page 39. Social Cognition 39,Social Cognition, This chapter is about how people think about other people Social cognition is a broad term. that describes a focus on the way perceivers encode process remember and use information. in social contexts in order to make sense of other people s behavior where a social context. is defined as any real or imagined scenario including reference to self or others We have. placed this chapter on social cognition near the start of the book because it is central to many. of the other chapters later on The way that we organize and use social information is an. essential element in our understanding of intergroup and interpersonal processes social iden. tity and prejudice attitudes and conformity Below we will examine the strategies and the. shortcomings of social inference the way in which we categorize others and use cognitive. shortcuts to clarify and understand all of the information that constantly bombards our. senses We will see how an understanding of social thought has evolved from seeing people. as only cold logical and rational information processors to a recognition that we are often. inclined to go on gut feeling and intuition when making judgments about others. SOCIAL INFERENCE,The Na ve Scientist, Let us begin with common sense Humans are rationale creatures we are able to solve com. plex mathematical problems use sophisticated logic to construct arguments and we are. cogent balanced and analytical It should therefore follow that we apply these principles to. everyday social thought and action This was the view of social cognition that characterized. early theorizing This highly influential view was presented by Heider 1958 who argued. that people are motivated by two primary needs 1 the need to form a coherent view of the. world and 2 the need to gain control over the environment Heider believed that this desire. for consistency and stability the ability to predict and control makes us behave like naive. scientists rationally and logically testing our hypotheses about the behavior of others In par. ticular this need to attribute causes to effects for example observed behaviors and events. and to create a meaningful stable world where things make sense was the basis for a theo. retical approach that became highly influential in how social psychologists viewed social. cognition This set of ideas and models can be referred to as attribution theory. Attribution theory, Heider 1958 believed that we have a basic need to attribute causality because this ascribes. meaning to our world making it clear definable and predictable thereby reducing uncertainty. This need Heider argued is a major driving force in human social inference A clever. Crisp 3485 Chapter 02 qxd 10 12 2006 8 49 PM Page 40. 40 Essential Social Psychology,Participants were asked to interpret a. moving picture film in which three,geometric figures a large triangle a small.
triangle and a disc were shown moving in,various directions and at various speeds in. and around a rectangle which could be,opened or closed with a door. Out of 34 participants only one participant,described the film in geometrical terms e g. A large triangle enters a rectangle and,moves around. All other participants described the,movements of actions of animate beings.
mostly humans but in two cases as birds,Example response A man has planned to. meet a girl and the girl comes along with,another man The first man tells the second. to go The second man shakes his head,Then the two men have a fight. Figure 2 1 An illustration of the picture film used in the Heider and Simmel 1944 study. experiment illustrated this basic need Heider and Simmel 1944 asked participants to. simply describe the movement of abstract geometric shapes They found a general ten. dency to describe the movement in ways indicative of human intentions and motives see. Figure 2 1 This readiness to ascribe human intentionality to things that we know have lit. tle or no capacity for such intention is a common characteristic of how we think just think. about how people talk to their pets as if they can understand them. Types of Attribution, This apparent desire to attribute causality was the basis for a great deal of work that. attempted to model the ways in which humans try to explain the actions of themselves and. others To understand these models we first need to define different types of attribution. We can refer to this as defining the locus of causality. The main distinction that can be made between types of attribution is internal external An. internal attribution is any explanation that locates the cause as being internal to the person. such as personality mood abilities attitudes and effort also known as a person attribution. An external attribution is any explanation that locates the cause as being external to the per. son such as the actions of others the nature of the situation social pressures or luck also. know as a situation attribution Imagine you are in a supermarket and at the checkout the. assistant is rude to you How do you explain his behavior Given that you do not know him. or to be more precise you don t have access to his thoughts and feelings you can only infer. a cause from his behavior You might come to the conclusion that he is a rude and unpleas. ant person a dispositional internal attribution Alternatively you might think he is just. Crisp 3485 Chapter 02 qxd 10 12 2006 8 49 PM Page 41. Social Cognition 41, having a bad day maybe he has just had an argument with his partner a situational attri.
bution Similarly imagine your college professor is in a particularly good mood in class one. day singing joking behavior that is definitely different from the norm Do you think her. personality might have suddenly changed a dispositional attribution or would you infer. some other cause perhaps she has just got a paper accepted to a leading journal a situa. tional cause We will discuss how people arrive at either of these different types of attribu. tion later on but for now it is just important to note that there are fundamentally two different. ways that behavior can be explained by internal or by external causes. As well as this fundamental distinction between internal and external attributions it is. possible to further sub divide types of inference along two other independent dimensions. stability and controllability Weiner 1982 1986 Stability refers to the extent to which. causes are relatively stable and permanent e g natural ability versus temporary and. fluctuating e g being drunk Controllability refers to the extent to which causes can be. influenced by others e g effort versus the extent to which they are random e g luck. Together these three dimensions appear to be the typical ways in which people explain. events Meyer Koebl 1982 in both individualist and collectivist countries Hau. Salili 1991 However for our purposes we only need to focus on the most common and. clearest distinction internal versus external causes How people arrive at either an internal. or external attribution is the focus of the next section. Making Attributions, In the previous section we classified the types of attribution people can make the conclusions. that we can arrive at when trying to explain someone else s behavior But how do people reach. that conclusion what are the thought processes involved This is what social cognition is all. about In this section we discuss the two main models of attribution process that emerged from. research in the 1970 s Correspondent Inference Theory and the Co variation Model. Correspondent Inference Theory, According to Jones and Davis 1965 when making social inferences people try to make a. correspondent inference In other words they tend to infer that the action of an actor. corresponds to or is indicative of a stable personality characteristic The idea is that people. prefer internal dispositional attributions over external situation attributions because the. former type of knowledge is more valuable with regard to making predictions about. behavior A dispositional attribution such as rude is a judgment that the person in. question has a particular set of personality attributes which are assumed to be stable and. do not change over time In contrast a situation attribution such as explaining behavior. as being down to a transitory mood is by definition a variable and changeable cause The. former being stable and unchanging is a much more valuable conclusion if valid for pre. dicting future behavior For example attributing a shop assistant s rudeness to an internal. cause his grumpy personality is useful because we can then assume he will always be. Crisp 3485 Chapter 02 qxd 10 12 2006 8 49 PM Page 42. 42 Essential Social Psychology, grumpy when we visit the shop and so we should avoid his till If we can find dispositional. causes for behavior these help us to fulfil what Heider 1958 argued is our basic drive. towards coherence and clarity stability and a predictable world. According to Jones and Davis 1965 we assess whether there is a correspondence bet. ween behavior and personality i e arrive at a correspondent inference or in other words. a dispositional attribution by processing three key types of information social desirabil. ity choice and non common effects, Social desirability information refers to whether the behavior observed is consistent with. or counter to social norms An internal dispositional attribution is more likely when socially. undesirable behaviors are observed People have a tendency to go along with social norms. to adhere to the majority viewpoint because they wish to avoid exclusion and ridicule for. standing out and being different from the crowd we discuss this normative social influence in. detail in Chapter 5 As such behavior that is socially desirable does not tell us much about. people s personalities because they may simply be going along with the group norm which. may or may not coincide with their own personal point of view In contrast someone who. exhibits socially undesirable behavior who goes against the social norm is much more. likely to be displaying behavior that corresponds to an underlying personality trait because. the behavior cannot be attributed to the person simply conforming to the majority. According to Jones and Davis another type of information that social perceivers seek in. order to make a correspondent inference is whether the behavior in question was freely. chosen or not An internal dispositional attribution is more likely when the person being. observed has freely chosen the given behavior Again this makes a lot of sense if behav. ior has been freely chosen then it is much more likely to be the result of an underlying per. sonality characteristic or attitude rather than a result of coercion threat or inducements. When a behavior has a unique consequence rather than having a range of possible other. consequences we can refer to it as having non common effects An internal dispositional. attribution is more likely when the outcome of a behavior has a unique or non common. effect For instance a punch has really only one possible outcome so it is more likely to. be attributed to an internal dispositional cause, Although there is some evidence to support the idea that people use these three types of.
information outlined above to attribute causality to others behavior e g Jones Harris 1967. ultimately the theory has declined in popularity due to some clear limitations In particular the. model is limited to single instances of behavior and focuses on internal attributions The latter. point is especially important It is very easy to think of the many times that we have put some. one s behavior down to bad luck or them having a bad day People clearly and consistently. make external attributions as well as internal The model we turn to next directly addresses. these limitations and is arguably the most influential of the attribution theories. The Co variation Model, Kelley s 1967 co variation model accounts for multiple behaviors Importantly it also. details the processes that result in external as well as internal attributions According to. Kelley causality is attributed using the co variation principle This principle states. that for something to be the cause of a particular behavior it must be present when the. Crisp 3485 Chapter 02 qxd 10 12 2006 8 49 PM Page 43. Social Cognition 43, behavior is present and absent when the behavior is absent i e it must covary From. multiple potential causes we ascribe causality to the one that co varies with the behavior. to the greatest extent acting as Heider 1958 would say exactly like na ve scientists. The co variation model states that three types of information are crucial for arriving at. an internal or external attribution consensus consistency and distinctiveness information. When observing someone s behavior in a particular social context the combined impact. of these three types of information will determine what type of attribution is made. Consensus information is the extent to which other people in the scene react in the same. way as the target person Consistency information is the extent to which the target person. reacts in the same way on different occasions Distinctiveness information is the extent to. which the target person reacts in the same way in other social contexts see Figure 2 2. placed this chapter on social cognition near the start of the book because it is central to many of the other chapters later on The way that we organize and use social information is an essential element in our understanding of intergroup and interpersonal processes social iden tity and prejudice attitudes and conformity Below we will examine the strategies and the shortcomings of social

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