Why Study Social Cognition?
- By studying errors of judgment we can understand how we make judgments and learn to avoid mistakes.
The Information Available for Social Cognition
- Sometimes we have very little information but make judgments anyway—as when people make personality judgments based on physical appearance
- Mistaken inferences can arise from pluralistic ignorance, which tends to occur when people are reluctant to express their misgivings about a perceived group norm; their reluctance in turn reinforces the false norm.
- Information received secondhand often does not provide a full account of what happened or may stress certain elements at the expense of others.
- Positive information is more likely to be reported and tends to receive much more weight in people’s judgments than negative information.
How Information Is Presented
- How information is presented can affect judgment. The order in which information is presented can be important. When the information presented first is more influential, there is a primacy effect, which often results because the initial information affects the way subsequent information is interpreted. When information presented last is more influential, there is a recency effect, which usually results from such information being more available in memory.
- Order effects are a type of framing effect. Others include the "spinning" of information by varying the language or structure of the information that is presented.
- The temporal framing of an event also influences how we think of it. Far-off events are construed in more abstract terms, and imminent events are construed more concretely.
How We Seek Information
- People tend to examine whether certain propositions are true by searching for information consistent with the proposition in question. This confirmation bias can lead people to believe things that aren’t true because evidence can generally be found to support even the most questionable propositions.
- People are sometimes motivated to find evidence supporting a preexisting conclusion.
Top-Down Processing: Using Schemas to Understand New Information
- Schemas influence our interpretation of information. They are important top-down tools we use to understand the world, as opposed to the bottom-up tools of perception and facts retrieved from memory.
- Schemas guide attention, memory, the construal of information, and can directly prompt behavior.
- The likelihood that a given schema will be applied depends on how well the incoming information matches the critical features of the schema. Sometimes irrelevant similarities between the available information and a schema lead us to apply the schema inappropriately.
- In general, the more recently and the more frequently a schema has been "activated," the more likely it is to be applied to new information. We need not be consciously aware of a schema to be influenced by it.
Reason, Intuition, and Heuristics
- People have two systems for processing information: an intuitive system and a rational system. Intuitive responses are based on rapid, associative processes, whereas rational responses are based on slower, rule-based reasoning.
- Intuitive heuristics, or mental shortcuts, provide us with sound judgments most of the time, but they sometimes lead us into errors of judgment.
- We use the availability heuristic when we judge the -frequency or probability of some event by how readily relevant instances come to mind. It can encourage us to overestimate how much we have contributed to group projects, and it can lead us to overestimate the risks posed by memorable hazards.
- The fluency we experience when processing information can influence the judgments we make about it. Disfluent stimuli lead to more reflective judgment.
- We use the representativeness heuristic when we try to categorize something by judging how similar it is to our conception of the typical member of the category or when we try to make causal attributions by assessing how similar an effect is to a possible cause. Sometimes we overlook highly relevant considerations such as base-rate information—how many members of the category there are in a population.
- The "inside" perspective on judgment leads to errors such as the planning fallacy, which we could avoid by taking an "outside" perspective and attending to our history of finishing similar tasks in a given time.
- Operating together, availability and representativeness can produce potent illusory correlations, which result when we think that two variables are correlated, both because they resemble each other and because the co-occurrence of two similar events is more memorable than the co-occurrence of two dissimilar events.