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Cognitive Consistency in Social Cognition  

Skylar M. Brannon and Bertram Gawronski

The desire to maintain consistency between cognitions has been recognized by many psychologists as an important human motive. Research on this topic has been highly influential in a variety of areas of social cognition, including attitudes, person perception, prejudice and stereotyping, and self-evaluation. In his seminal work on cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger noted that inconsistencies between cognitions result in negative affect. Further, he argued that the motivation to maintain consistency is a basic motive that is intrinsically important. Subsequent theorists posed revisions to Festinger’s original theory, suggesting that consistency is only important to the extent that it allows one to maintain a desired self-view or to communicate traits to others. According to these theorists, the motivation to maintain consistency serves as a means toward a superordinate motive, not as an end in itself. Building on this argument, more recent perspectives suggest that consistency is important for the execution of context-appropriate action and the acquisition and validation of knowledge. Several important lines of research grew out of the idea that cognitive consistency plays a central role in social information processing. One dominant line of research has aimed toward understanding how people deal with inconsistencies between their attitudes and their behaviors. Other research has investigated how individuals maintain their beliefs either by (1) avoiding exposure to contradictory information or (2) engaging in cognitive processes aimed toward reconciling an inconsistency after being exposed to contradictory information. Cognitive consistency perspectives have also been leveraged to understand (1) the conditions under which explicit and implicit evaluations correlate with one another, (2) when change in one type of evaluation corresponds with change in the other, and (3) the roles of distinct types of consistency principles underlying explicit and implicit evaluations. Expanding on these works, newer lines of research have provided important revisions and extensions to early research on cognitive consistency, focusing on (1) the identification of inconsistency, (2) the elicitation of negative affect in response to inconsistency, and (3) behavioral responses aimed to restore inconsistency or mitigate the negative feelings arising from inconsistency. For example, some research has suggested that, instead of following the rules of formal logic, perceptions of (in)consistency are driven by “psycho-logic” in that individuals may perceive inconsistency when there is logical consistency, and vice versa. Further, reconciling conflicting research on the affective responses to inconsistency, recent work suggests that all inconsistencies first elicit negative affect, but immediate affective reactions may change in line with the hedonic experience of the event when an individual has time to make sense of the inconsistency. Finally, new frameworks have been proposed to unite a broad range of phenomena under one unifying umbrella, using the concept of cognitive consistency as a common denominator.


Critical Role of Social–Cognitive Age Representations  

Alison Chasteen, Maria Iankilevitch, Jordana Schiralli, and Veronica Bergstrom

In 2016, Statistics Canada released the results of the most recent census. For the first time ever, the proportion of Canadians aged 65-plus years surpassed the proportion aged 15 and under. The increase in the proportion of older adults was viewed as further evidence of the faster rate of aging of Canada’s population. Such demographic shifts are not unique to Canada; many industrialized nations around the world are experiencing similar changes in their populations. Increases in the older adult population in many countries might produce beneficial outcomes by increasing the potential for intergenerational contact and exposure to exemplars of successful aging. Such positive intergenerational contact could counter prevailing age stereotypes and improve intergenerational relations. On the other hand, such increases in the number of older adults could be viewed as a strain and potential threat to resources shared with younger age groups. The possibility of increased intergenerational conflict makes it more important than ever before to understand how older adults are stereotyped, how those stereotypes can produce different kinds of biased behavior toward them, and what the impact of those stereotypes are on older adults themselves. Social-cognitive age representations are complex and multifaceted. A common stereotype applied to older people is one of warmth but incompetence, often resulting in paternalistic prejudice toward them. However, such benevolent prejudice, characterized by warm overtones, can change to hostile bias if older adults are perceived to violate prescriptive norms about age-appropriate behavior. In addition to coping with age prejudice, older adults also have to deal with the deleterious effects of negative age stereotypes on their day-to-day function. Exposure to negative aging stereotypes can worsen older adults’ cognitive performance in a number of contexts. As well, age stereotypes can be incorporated into older adults’ own views of aging, also leading to poorer outcomes for them in a variety of domains. A number of interventions to counteract the effects of negative aging stereotypes appear promising, but more work remains to be done to reduce the impact of negative aging stereotypes on daily function in later life.


Culture, Language, and Thought  

Mutsumi Imai, Junko Kanero, and Takahiko Masuda

The relations among language, culture, and thought are complex. The empirical evidence from diverse domains suggests that culture affects language, language affects thought, and universally shared perception and cognition constrain the structure of language. Although neither language nor culture determines thought, both seem to highlight certain aspects of the world, with stronger influence when there are no clear perceptible categories. Research must delve into how language, culture, perception, and cognition interact with one another across different domains.


Historical Psychology  

Noemi Pizarroso Lopez

Historical psychology claims that the mind has a history, that is, that our ways of thinking, reasoning, perceiving, feeling, and acting are not necessarily universal or invariable, but are instead subject to modifications over time and space. The theoretical and methodological foundations of this movement were laid in France by psychologist Ignace Meyerson in his book Les fonctions psychologiques et les œuvres, published in 1948. His program stressed the active, experimental, constructive nature of human behavior, spanning behavioral registers as diverse as the linguistic, the religious, the juridical, the scientific/technical, and the artistic. All these behaviors involve aspects of different mental functions that we can infer through a proper analysis of “works,” considered as consolidated testimonies of human activity. As humanity’s successive achievements, constructed over the length of all the paths of the human experience, they are the materials with which psychology has to deal. Meyerson refused to propose an inventory of functions to study. As unstable and imperfect products of a complex and uncertain undertaking, they can be analyzed only by avoiding the counterproductive prejudice of metaphysical fixism. Meyerson spoke in these terms of both deep transformations of feelings, of the person, or of the will, and of the so-called “basic functions,” such as perception and the imaginative function, including memory, time, space, and object. Before Meyerson the term “historical psychology” had already been used by historians like Henri Berr and Lucien Febvre, a founding member of the Annales school, who firmly envisioned a sort of collective psychology of times past. Meyerson and his disciples eventually vied with their fellow historians of the Annales school for the label of “historical psychology” and criticized their notions of mentality and outillage mental. The Annales historians gradually abandoned the label, although they continued to cultivate the idea that mental operations and emotions have a history through the new labels of a “history of mentalities” and, more recently at the turn of the century, a “history of emotions.” While Meyerson and a few other psychologists kept using the “historical psychology” label, however, mainstream psychology remained quite oblivious to this historical focus. The greatest efforts made today among psychologists to think of our mental architecture in terms of transformation over time and space are probably to be found in the work of Kurt Danziger and Roger Smith.


Mirror Neurons, Empathy, and the Other  

Marco Iacoboni

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. It extends also to the ability to understand and share the feelings of animals and fictional characters. Empathy is essential to properly function in social interactions. It is also typically higher for people who belong to one’s own social group and lower for people who belong to a different social group. Lack of empathy is associated with severe mental health conditions including psychopathy, narcissism, and antisocial personality disorder. Empathy is a complex, flexible, adaptive, and nuanced function for navigating social settings that involves the interplay of multiple neural systems. A crucial neural system for empathy is the mirror neuron system, formed by cells with a variety of properties and the shared feature of being activated during the actions of the self and the perception of actions of other people. The mirroring of the actions of other people in one’s brain allows an understanding from within of the other’s intentions, motivation, and feelings.


The Origin of Psychology in the Humanities  

Sven Hroar Klempe

The term “psychology” was applied for the first time in the 16th century. Yet the most interesting examples appeared in three different contexts. The Croatian poet and humanist Marko Marulić (ca. 1520), the German philosopher and Calvinist Johann Thomas Freig (1575), and the German Lutheran philosopher Rudolph Goclenius (1590). Marulić’s manuscript is likely lost, and neither of the other two defined the term. Even the interests of the three went apparently in different directions. Marulić focused on poetry and history, Freig on physica, and Goclenius on theological issues. Nevertheless, they had something in common, and this may represent the gate through which the ways they conceived the term can be understood. They all dealt with the soul, but also that it was a highly disputable concept and not uniformly understood. Another commonality was the avoidance or reinterpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy. The Florentines’ cultivation of Plato had influenced Marulić. Freig was a Ramist, thus, also a humanist who approached philosophical questions rhetorically. Goclenius belonged partly to the same movement. Consequently, they all shared a common interest in texts and language. This is just one, yet quite important aspect of the origin of psychology as a science. Thus, these text- and humanity-oriented aspects of psychology are traceable from the very beginning. This reaches a peak point when Alexander Baumgarten publishes his two volumes on aesthetics, as they were based on Christian Wolff’s Psychologia empirica (1732). They are also traceable in Kant’s critical phase, and even more in Wundt’s folkpsychology. Thus there is a more or less continuous line from the very first uses of the term psychology and some tendencies in social and cultural psychology. In other words, psychology is pursued along an historical line that ends up in the German, and not the British enlightenment.


Psychological Responses to Scarcity  

Jiaying Zhao and Brandon M. Tomm

Scarcity is the condition of having insufficient resources to cope with demands. This condition presents significant challenges to the human cognitive system. For example, having limited financial resources requires the meticulous calculation of expenses with respect to a budget. Likewise, having limited time requires the stringent management of schedules with respect to a deadline. As such, scarcity consumes cognitive resources such as attention, working memory, and executive control and elicits a range of systematic and even counter-productive cognitive and behavioral responses as a result. Specifically, scarcity induces an attentional focus on the problem at hand, which facilitates performance by enhancing cognitive processing of information relevant to the problem, increasing the efficiency of resource use, and stabilizing the perception of value. Such prioritization of the problem at hand may seem advantageous, but it can produce undesirable consequences. For example, scarcity causes myopic and impulsive behavior, prioritizing short-term gains over long-term gains. Ironically, scarcity can also result in a failure to notice beneficial information in the environment that alleviates the condition of scarcity. More detrimentally, scarcity directly impairs cognitive function, which can lead to suboptimal decisions and choices that exacerbate the condition of scarcity. Thus, scarcity means not only a shortage of physical resources (e.g., money or time) but also a deficit of cognitive resources (e.g., attention, executive control). The cognitive deficits under scarcity are particularly problematic because they impair performance and lead to counter-productive behaviors that deepen the cycle of scarcity. In addition, people under financial scarcity suffer from stigmas and stereotypes associated with poverty. These social perceptions of poverty further burden the mind by consuming cognitive resources, weakening performance in the poor. Understanding the cognitive and behavioral responses to scarcity provides new insights into why the poor remain poor, identifying the psychological causes of scarcity, and illuminating potential interventions to stop the cycle of scarcity. These insights have important implications for the design and the implementation of policies and services targeting the populations under scarcity.


The Social Brain Hypothesis and Human Evolution  

Robin I. M. Dunbar

Primate societies are unusually complex compared to those of other animals, and the need to manage such complexity is the main explanation for the fact that primates have unusually large brains. Primate sociality is based on bonded relationships that underpin coalitions, which in turn are designed to buffer individuals against the social stresses of living in large, stable groups. This is reflected in a correlation between social group size and neocortex size in primates (but not other species of animals), commonly known as the social brain hypothesis, although this relationship itself is the outcome of an underlying relationship between brain size and behavioral complexity. The relationship between brain size and group size is mediated, in humans at least, by mentalizing skills. Neuropsychologically, these are all associated with the size of units within the theory of mind network (linking prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe units). In addition, primate sociality involves a dual-process mechanism whereby the endorphin system provides a psychopharmacological platform off which the cognitive component is then built. This article considers the implications of these findings for the evolution of human cognition over the course of hominin evolution.


The Social Brain  

Halie Olson and Anila D'Mello

Humans are fundamentally social animals, and a large portion of the human brain is dedicated to social cognition—the set of mental functions and processes that scaffold our ability to observe, understand, and interact with others. While early philosophers and scientists relied on observation or isolated cases of brain damage to gain insight into social cognition, the advent of new technologies, including noninvasive neuroimaging, has opened a new window into the brain regions that support social cognition in humans, referred to as the social brain. These technologies have elucidated with new precision that individual brain regions are specialized for a variety of social functions including comprehending language, processing faces and emotions, anticipating what a social partner might do next, and even thinking about others’ thoughts. While the building blocks for the social brain are present from birth, individual regions continue to develop into adulthood and are shaped by experience.


Wisdom Across Cultures  

Igor Grossmann and Franki Kung

The concept of wisdom is ancient and deeply embedded in the cultural history of humanity. However, only since 1980s have psychologists begun to study it scientifically. Taking a culturally and philosophically informed perspective, this article integrates insights from the quantitative science of wisdom. Analysis of epistemological traditions and research on folk theories of wisdom suggest cultural similarities in the domain of cognition (e.g., wisdom as reasoning ability and knowledge). These similarities can be contrasted with cultural differences concerning folk-theoretical affective and prosocial themes of wisdom, as well as expression of various wisdom-related themes, rooted in distinct sociocultural and ecological environments. Empirical evidence indicates that wisdom is an individually and culturally malleable construct, consistent with an emerging constructionist account of wisdom and its development. Future research can benefit from integration of ecological and cultural-historical factors for the meaning of wisdom and its expression.