Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 8

SocialCognition(MakingSenseofPeople)

ByZivaKunda

For much of the twentieth century, experimental psychology was dominated by a


behaviourist approach that dictated that psychologists should focus only on directly
observablephenomenasuchasstimuliandresponses.Thegoalofpsychologicalapproach
wastoidentifythelawsthatgovernedhowthebehaviourwasinfluencedbyeventsinthe
environment, inparticular events thatamountedto rewards andpunishments.Themental
eventsthatintervenedbetweenastimulusnotedintheenvironmentandtheresponseitgave
risetowereconsideredirrelevant;themindwastreatedasablackboxthatpsychologists
shouldnottrytoinvestigate(e.g.,Skinner,1963).
Cognitive events underlying perception, judgement, and decisionmaking received
littleattentionuntilthe1960s.
Manyofthequestions thatsocialpsychologists has beenconcernedwithfromits
earliestdayshowweformimpressionsofothers,howweexplaintheirbehaviour,howour
attitudesrelatetoouractions,howweresolveconflictsamongourbeliefs,howourreactions
canbetaintedbyprejudicerevolvedaroundcomplexmentalprocesses.Researchaddressing
allofthesequestionsrevolvedaroundcognitiveelementssuchasbeliefandinterference.
In addition to its ongoing interest in cognitive elements such as beliefs and
attributions,socialpsychologyhadhistoricallymaintainedaninterestintwoothersystems
motivationandaffect.
Thenotionthatourmotivescaninfluenceourbeliefsliesatthecoreofoneofthemost
influential social psychological theories, dissonance theory, which was based on the
assumptionthatthemotivationtoreducetheunpleasanttensionamongconflictingbeliefs
couldprovokeattemptstomodifyoneofthediscordantbeliefs(Festinger,1975).
Socialcognitionisusedbroadlytorefertoalltheseaspectsofmakingsenseofour
socialworldthoughts,goals,andfeelings,or,moretechnically,cognition,motivation,and
affect.

Concepts:RepresentingSocialKnowledge
Examinationofsocialconceptsdowecarrydefinitionsoflawyers,listsoftheir
typicalattributes,ortheoriesaboutwhatmakesthemtick?Alsodiscussesmodelsof
howconceptsmaybeinterrelated;thesemodelscanaccountforhowthinkingabout
oneconceptcaninfluenceourthoughtsaboutanotherconcept.

Whatareconcepts?Werelyonavarietyofconceptstomakesenseofoursocial
world.Wehaveconceptsforpersonalitytraits,suchasshyorresponsible;conceptsfor
conceptsforcategoriesofpeoplesuchasstudentsorAfricanAmericans,andconcepts
forsocialeventssuchaspartiesandfunerals.
Tounderstandhowpeopleuseconcepts,itisimportanttounderstandhowthey
representthem.

Whatareconcepts?Whyaremanywomenwhobelieveinequalrightsformenand
women reluctant to call themselves feminists? Why are welfare offices across the
United States being renamed as job centers, employment centers, or family
independent agencies? (NYT, 7.5.1998). Such name changes and disputes over
terminologyarenotunusual.ConsideraPalestinianwhohasplantedabombonan
Israelibus,killingseveralcivilians.Whetherthispersonshouldbecalledaterroristor
afreedomfighterhasbeenthesubjectofheateddebate.Orconsiderasixyearoldboy
who kisses a classmate on the cheek. Should we view this behaviour as sexual
harassment, as did the Lexington, North Carolina, principal who suspended little
JonathanPrevettefromschoolforadayonthesegrounds,orshouldweviewthis
behaviourasinnocentplay,asdidthechildsoutragedparents?(NYT,9.27.1996).

Conceptsarebuildingblocksofcognition.Aconceptisamentalrepresentationofa
category,thatis,aclassofobjectsthatwebelievebelongtogether(Smith.1990).
The many crucial concepts of functions include classification, inferring
additional attributes, guiding attention and interpretation, communication, and
reasoning.
Concepts provide a framework for making sense of incoming information.
Whenyoustepintoaclassroom,theconceptsoflecture,professor,andstudentallow
youtounderstandwhatisgoingon.
Ourconceptsdonotonlyhelpusidentifytheobjects,events,andpeoplethat
weencounter,theyalsocolourourreality.Peopleapplyingdifferentconceptstothe
sameeventmayemergewithverydifferentunderstandingsoftheseevents.Thisis
especiallytrueinthesocialworld,wheremanybehavioursandinterpersonalsituations
canbeambiguous.Forinstance,whenweobserveawomancryingatafuneral,we
willviewhercryingasanexpressionofsadness.Yetwewillunderstandtheidentical
behaviourasanexpressionofjoywhenweobserveitatawedding(Trope,1986).
Similarly,whenweobserveonepersonpushinganother,weinterpretthisbehaviouras
ajovialshoveifperformedbyawhiteperson,butinterprettheidenticalbehaviourasa
violentpushifitisperformedbyablackperson(SagarandSchofield,1980).
Concepts are constituents of thought. We can combine existing concepts to
form new ideas and to describe new objects and situations. For example, we can
readilymakesenseofnovelcombinationssuchasHarvardeducatedcarpenterby
relyingonwhatweknowaboutpeopleeducatedatHarvardandaboutcarpenters,as
wellasotherrelatedconcepts.Wemayassume,forexample,thatsuchapersonis
intelligent,asbefittingaHarvardgraduate,andnonmaterialistic,asbefittingsomeone
whohaschosennottopursueamorelucrativeoccupation(Kunda,Miller,andClaire,
1990).
Theactivationofaconceptonagivenoccasionisjointlydeterminedbyaspects
ofthestimulus,ofthecontextinwhichitisobserved,andoftheobserver.

Salience: Contextmaymakesomeaspectsmoresalientthanothers.Apersonwho
differsfromeveryoneelsepresentonaparticulardimensionmaybeespeciallylikely
toactivatethatdimension.Saliencemayalsoaffectwhichconceptsweusetodescribe
ourselves.

Priming: Ifyouhavejustbeenreadinganarticleaboutracerelations,youmaybe
particularlylikelytothinkofablackpersonasanAfricanAmerican(ratherthan,say,
asawoman,adoctor,orafriend).Inthisexample,particularconceptsAfrican
Americanhavebeenprimed,thatis,madeaccessiblebyarecentexperience.The
termprimingreferstoanyexperiencesorproceduresthatbringaparticularconcept(or
anyknowledgestructure)tomind(Higgins,1996).
Following the initial work of Tory Higgins and his colleagues, social
psychologists have demonstrated repeatedly that a concept that has recently been
primedisespeciallylikelytobeappliedtotheinterpretationofnovelinformation,
even in unrelated concepts (e.g., for a review, see Higgins, 1996). A variety of
procedureshavebeenusedtoprimeconcepts.Theseincludeaskingparticipantsto
readsynonymsofaconcept,askingthemtounscrambleaseriesofsentencesthatare
related to the concept, or having them overhear a radio broadcast describing an
incidentrelatedtotheconcept.

Concepts tendtobe chronicallyaccessible if they are viewed as selfdefining and


importantoriftheyfigureprominentlyinmanyofonesdecriptionsofotherpeople
(Higgins, King, and Mavin, 1982; Markus, 1977). Chronically accessible concepts
affectonesunderstandingofothers:Apersonforwhommasculinityischronically
accessiblewillbeparticularlylikelytoapplythisconcepttomakesenseofanothers
behaviour,anapersonforwhomshynessischronicallyaccessiblewillbeparticularly
likelytoviewasshysomeonewhosebehavioursareambiguousastowhetherornot
theyreflectshyness(Barghetal.,1985).

Heuristics:RulesofThumbforReasoning Relatedtothequestionofhowwe
reasonaboutprobabilities.
For instance, Kahneman and Tversky (1973) suggested that, rather than using
statisticalrulesimperfectly,peopleoftenrelyonverydifferentkindsofinferential
heuristics,thatis,rulesofthumbforjudgement.Althoughtheseheuristicsoftenleadto
effectivereasoning,theyalsoleadtosystematicbiasesanderrors.
IsSusanlikelytobeaDemocratoraRepublican?DoesJerrysrecentstringof
rejectionsbywomenreflectarunofbadluckorapersonalitydisorder?Manyofthe
probabilisticquestionsweencounterareoftheform:Weareoftencalleduponto
judgethelikelihoodthataninstancebelongstoacategory,orthataneventoriginated
fromanunderlyingprocess.
One study focused on the stereotype of men as more assertive than women.
Participantsreaddifferentkindsofinformationaboutseveralmenandwomen,and
were asked to indicate how assertive each of these individuals was. Some of the
individuals were described only by a name. In this case participants used the
stereotype:ApersonidentifiedonlyasPaulwasjudgedmoreassertivethanaperson
identifiedonlyasSusan.Otherindividualswereidentifiedbynameaswellasbya
singlebehaviourindicativeofassertiveness.Onesuchbehaviourwas:

TheotherdayNancywasinaclassinwhichshewantedtomakeseveralpointsabout
the readings being discussed. But another student was dominating the class
discussionssothoroughlythatshehadtoabruptlyinterruptthisstudentinorderto
breakintothediscussionandexpressherownviews(Locksleyetal.,1980,p.827).

Probability theory dictates that the probability of a conjunction, that is, a co


occurrenceoftwooutcomes,cannotbegreaterthantheprobabilityofeachoutcome
alone.

Determiningwhatis,whatwas,andwhatmighthavebeen:Hypothesis
testing,covariationdetection,andcounterfactualthinking
Muchofoursocialknowledgeisaccruedaswetestparticularhypothesesaboutthe
world:Isthispersontrustworthy?WillIenjoythissocialevent?HaveIbeenfair
minded?
Wealsogainknowledgebyassessingcovariationsamongattributesandevents:
Arelibrariansespeciallyshy?Dochildrenbecomehyperactiveaftereatingcandy?
Ourabilitytohandletheseinferentialtasksislessthanperfect.

Memory:ReconstructingthePast

The movie The Assault (1986) describes the struggles of a man plagued by traumatic
memories. The opening scenes ofthe movie portray the traumatic incident as it unfolds:
DuringoneawfulnightattheendofWorldWarIIAnton,alittleDutchboyintheNazi
occupied Netherlands, witnessed the events that lead to the execution of his parents and
brotherbytheNazis.TheremainderofthemovieshowsAnton,nowagrownmananda
successfulphysician,strivingtomakesenseoftheevents.Graduallyheremembersdifferent
scenesfromthatdreadfulnight:Thefatefulactionsofhisneighbours,theargumentbetween
hisbrothersandhisparents,thewordsofthewomanwithwhomhehadspenttherestofthe
nightinadarkprisoncell.

Memoryisnothinglikeareplayofawellpreservedmovie.Wedonotrecallevents
exactly as they happened. Rather, we reconstruct our memories of events as well as the
circumstancesinwhichwecamebythesememories.Ratherthanreplayingoldmoviesinour
mindseye,weusethepastandthepresenttoconstructnewones.

Expectanciescanderivefromapersonsownbehaviourcanbiasmemoriesaboutthisperson
in a similar manner. In one study, after hearing about a series of positive and negative
behaviours performed by a person, participants viewed a selfdescription written by this
person which she came across as wither arrogant and contemptuous or as modest and
respectful (Pyszczynski, LaPrelle, and Greenberg, 1987). This selfdescription created an
expectancy about the persons charcter which then influenced which of her previously
observed behaviours participants recalled: When asked to write down all that they could
rememberabouttheperson,participantsweremorelikelytorecallbehavioursthatmatched
theirexpectationsabouthercharacterthanbehavioursthatconflictedwiththeirexpectations.
Inadditiontoinfluencingwhichmemoriesweretrieve,currentexpectanciescanalso
determinehowweinterpretretrievedmemories.Throughthelensesofawomanscurrent
belief that her husband is cheating on her, the flowers he had recently given her are
retroactivelytransformedfromagestureoflovetoanactofdeceit.
Subtly conveyed expectancies may also influence how we reconstruct observed
events.ElizabethLoftusandJohnPalmershowedparticipantsfilmsdepictingtrafficaccidents
andtheninterrogatedthemaboutthespeedofthevehiclesinvolvedinthecollision(Loftus
andPalmer,1974).
Subtle differences in the wording of the question about speed led to substantial
differencesinparticipantsestimates.Forexample,thoseaskedhowfastthecarsweregoing
whentheysmashedeachotherestimatedthespeedatabout41mph.Butthoseaskedhowfast
thecarsweregoingwhentheysmashedeachotherestimatedthespeedatabout41mph.But
thoseaskedhowfastthecarsweregoingwhentheycontactedeachotherestimatedthespeed
at only 32 mph. It appears that the expectancies conveyed by the questions affected
participantsmemoriesoftheevent.Eyewitnesstestimonymaythusbeinfluencedbysubtle
messagesconveyedwittinglyorunwittinglyatthetimeofinterrogation.
Thesedifferentsourcesofbiascanallcontributetothesamephenomenon:Wemay
recallpeoplespastbehavioursasmoreconsistentwithourcurrentexpectanciesaboutthem
thantheyreallyhavebeen.