What is Social Cognition in Social Psychology? It’s Definitions, Nature & Errors


Introduction of Social Cognition 

We are always trying to make sense out of the social world, How we think about the world and this basic fact leads us to engage in lots of social cognition—to think long and hard about other people (Shah, 2003). —

  • What they are like,
  • Why they do what they do,
  • How they might react to our behavior

The study of social cognition involves aspects of both cognitive psychology and social psychology.

Major areas of interest include attribution theoryperson perceptionsocial influence, and the cognitive processes involved in moral judgments.
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What is Cognition?

Cognition is a term referring to the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension. These cognitive processes include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving. These are higher-level functions of the brain and encompass language, imagination, perception, and planning.

Definition of Social Cognition 

According to American Psychological Association (APA)  Social Cognition is how people perceive, think about, interpret, categorize, and judge their own social behaviors and those of others.

According to Baron,  ‘Social Cognition refers to the manner in which we interpret, analyze , remember and use information about social world.’

Social Cognition—how we think about the social world, our attempts to understand it, and ourselves and our place in it (Fiske & Taylor, 2008; Higgins & Kruglanski, 1996)?

In animal behavior, the knowledge that an individual has about other members of its social group and the ability to reason about the actions of others based on this knowledge. In vervet monkeys, for example, after an individual in matriline (matrilineal line of descent) A attacks an individual in matriline B, other members of B are more likely to attack members in A.

Nature of Social Cognition 

There are two basic ways to make sense of social world around us.

  1. Automatic Thought / Processing
  2. Controlled Thoughts / Processing

1. Automatic Thought / Processing in Social Cognition

We often our thinking about the social world proceeds on “automatic”—quickly, effortlessly, and without lots of careful reasoning.

Basic advantages of Automatics Processing in Social Cognition are –

  • It need very little or no efforts.
  • It can be very efficient.
  • It can lead to satisfactory judgements (Dijksterhuis & Olden, 2006)

But, It can also lead to major errors in conclusions.

It occur primarily in the amygdala (Cunningham, Johnson, Gatenby, Gore, & Banaji, 2003).

For Example –

Heuristics means simple rule of thumb👍 which are quick & effortless.

Schemas are mental frameworks that help us to organize social information, and that guide our actions and the processing of information relevant to those contexts.

2. Controlled Thought / Processing in Social Cognition

It occurs when something unexpected happens.

Unexpected events often triggers such careful, systematic, logical effortful thought.

It involve portions of the prefrontal cortex especially the medial & ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (Cunningham, Johnson, Gatenby, Gore, & Banaji, 2003).

Recent evidence suggests that automatic and controlled processing may often occur together, especially in situations involving some uncertainty (Sherman et al., 2008). The distinction between automatic and controlled processing is indeed real—and very important.

Errors in Social Cognition- Total rationality is rare.

  1. Tilts or tendencies- we are subject to a wide range of tendencies which can lead to errors. For example- tendency to be optimistic.  Career path to pursue; whom to marry; picking stocks to invest – our actions often reflect overconfidence & optimism (Gärling, Kirchler, Lewis, & van Raaij, 2009).
  2. Optimistic bias–a powerful predisposition to overlook risks and expect things to turn out well.
  3. Overconfidence barrier– To have greater confidence in our beliefs or judgments than is justified. lacking critical information i.e. we do not know enough to know what we have missed.
  4. Planning fallacy—our tendency to believe that we can get more done in a given period of time than we actually can, or that a given job will take less time than it really will (Buehler et al., 1994). For example- schedules for public works like new roads, airports, bridges, etc
  5. Counterfactual Thinking  – Situation specific. The tendency to imagine other outcomes in a situation than the ones that actually occurred (“What might have been”). It can affect our sympathy for people who have experienced negative outcomes. But upward counterfactuals can also motivate us to perform better in the future in hope of avoiding the outcome that did occur.

Emotions & Social Cognition 

Mood Congruence Effects

It means that current moods strongly determine which information in a given situation is noticed and entered into memory. Current moods serve as a kind of filter, permitting primarily information consistent with these moods to enter into long-term storage.

Mood Dependent Memory

When experiencing a particular mood, individuals are more likely to remember information they acquired in the past while in a similar mood than information they acquired while in a different mood  (Baddeley, 1990; Eich, 1995).  Current moods serve as a kind of retrieval cue.

Affective Forecasts

Predictions about how we would feel about events we have not actually experienced.
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References for Social Cognition 

Baron, R. A., Branscombe, N. R., & Byrne, D. Bhardwaj, Gopa. (2008). Social Psychology. (12th ed.). New Delhi: Pearson Education, Indian subcontinent adaptation






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