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Cognition and Social Cognitive Theory  

Paula S. Nurius

Social cognition refers to the ways in which people “make sense” of themselves, other people, and the world around them. Building on social psychological contributions, this entry summarizes processes through which we perceive, interpret, remember, and apply information in our efforts to render meaning and to interact. Rather than a rationalistic depiction, we see complex relationships among cognitions, emotions, motivations, and contexts. Social cognition provides guidance to mechanisms or venues through which personal and environmental transactions related to meaning take specific form, thereby offering crucial insights into adaptive or maladaptive development as well as change strategies. A principal benefit of social cognition for social work practice is its empirically supported and broadly applicable framework for explaining how person–environment interactions unfold and might be altered in the service of social work practice and social justice. Social cognition includes, for example, social knowledge, social influences, the relationship between social structures and categories (age, race, and sex) in constructing meaning, stereotyping and other biases in information processing, dynamic processes through which memories get stored, recall, and revised, attributions of others' behavior and motives and of one's own responses and internal states, identity development, and processes through which affect, cognition, and neurophysiology interrelate as people interact with their social environments.


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.


Organizational Sensemaking  

Ravi S. Kudesia

Since the 1980s, the management and organizations literature has grown substantially, turning over the years toward cognitive, discursive, and phenomenological perspectives. At the heart of this continued growth and its many turns is the matter of sensemaking. Construed narrowly, sensemaking describes the process whereby people notice and interpret equivocal events and coordinate a response to clarify what such events mean. More broadly, sensemaking offers a unique perspective on organizations. This perspective calls attention to how members of organizations reach understandings of their environment through verbal and embodied behaviors, how these understandings both enable and constrain their subsequent behavior, and how this subsequent behavior changes the environment in ways that necessitate new understandings. Whereas organizational psychology constructs typically fit most comfortably into a linear “boxes and arrows” paradigm, sensemaking highlights a recursive and ongoing process. Sense is never made in a lasting way: It is always subject to disruption and therefore must be continually re-accomplished. As a result, sensemaking is especially evident when equivocal events cause breakdowns in meaning. Such breakdowns render organizations incapable of answering two key questions: “What’s going on here?” and “What should we do about it?” Not coincidentally, such events—including crisis situations, strategic change episodes, firm formations and dissolutions, and new member socialization—are among the most pivotal events that occur in organizations. Sensemaking is therefore strongly implicated in organizational change, learning, and identity. Sensemaking can appear impenetrable to newcomers for precisely the same reason that it enables remarkably incisive analyses: the sensemaking perspective helps disrupt limiting rationality assumptions that are so often embedded in organizational theories. As such, sensemaking sensitizes scholars to counterintuitive aspects of organizational life. These aspects include how action in organizations often precedes understanding rather than following from it, how organizations are beset by a surplus of possible meanings rather than a scarcity of information, how retrospective thought processes often trump future-oriented ones, and how organizations help create the environments to which they must react. Nonetheless, despite these advances and insights, much remains to be learned about sensemaking as it relates to emotion and embodiment; as it occurs across individual, group, organizational, and institutional levels of analysis; and as it both shapes and is shaped by new technologies.


Open-Minded Cognition and Political Thought  

Victor Ottati and Chase Wilson

Dogmatic or closed-minded cognition is directionally biased; a tendency to select, interpret, and elaborate upon information in a manner that reinforces the individual’s prior opinion or expectation. Open-minded cognition is directionally unbiased; a tendency to process information in a manner that is not biased in the direction of the individual’s prior opinion or expectation. It is marked by a tendency to consider a variety of intellectual perspectives, values, attitudes, opinions, or beliefs—even those that contradict the individual’s prior opinion. Open-Minded Cognition is assessed using measures that specifically focus on the degree to which individuals process information in a directionally biased manner. Open-Minded Cognition can function as an individual difference characteristic that predicts a variety of social attitudes and political opinions. These include attitudes toward marginalized social groups (e.g., racial and ethnic minorities), support for democratic values, political ideology, and partisan identification. Open-Minded Cognition also possesses a malleable component that varies across domains and specific situations. For example, Open-Minded Cognition is higher in the political domain than religious domain. In addition, Open-Minded Cognition is prevalent in situations where individuals encounter plausible arguments that are compatible with conventional values, but is less evident when individuals encounter arguments that are extremely implausible or that contradict conventional values. Within a situation, Open-Minded Cognition also varies across social roles involving expertise. Because political novices possess limited political knowledge, social norms dictate that they should listen and learn in an open-minded fashion. In contrast, because political experts possess extensive knowledge, social norms dictate that they are entitled to adopt a more dogmatic cognitive orientation when listening to a political communication.


Social Cognition  

Kyle G. Ratner

Contemporary models of how the mind operates and methods for testing them emerged from the cognitive revolution in the middle of the 20th century. Social psychology researchers of the 1970s and 1980s were inspired by these developments and launched the field of social cognition to understand how cognitive approaches could advance understanding of social processes. Decades later, core social psychology topics, such as impression formation, the self, attitudes, stereotyping and prejudice, and interpersonal relationships, are interpreted through the lens of cognitive psychology conceptualizations of attention, perception, categorization, memory, and reasoning. Social cognitive methods and theory have touched every area of modern social psychology. Twenty-first-century efforts are shoring up methodological practices and revisiting old theories, investigating a wider range of human experience, and tackling new avenues of social functioning.


Purposes of Arts Education  

Rebecca Heaton and Richard Hickman

A range of arguments is used to justify the inclusion of the arts in schools’ curricula from different parts of the world, moreover, "the arts" can mean different things to different audiences. It is therefore useful to contextualize why and how arts education contributes to such things as social utility, personal growth, and aesthetic awareness. Arts education in many countries is being marginalized, and the cognitive value of arts education is being sidelined. By reinstating the arts in education as cognitively driven, culturally relevant, and progressive, an arts offering can be formed that aligns with, and advances, contemporary perspectives and practices in education.


Dialogic Education  

Rupert Wegerif

Dialogic education is a relatively new force in educational theory and practice. Despite the variety of approaches to dialogic education, it nonetheless offers a coherent theory of education with implications not only for how education should be practiced but also for the purposes of education. Dialogic education takes place through dialogue which means opening up dialogic spaces in which different perspectives can clash or play together and new learning can occur. But dialogic education is not only education through dialogue, it is also education for dialogue, meaning that as a result of dialogic education learners become better at learning together with others through dialogue. The intellectual background of dialogic education theory goes back at least as far as Socrates and includes thinkers as varied as Freire, who saw dialogic education as a means of liberation from oppression, and Oakeshott, who understood education to be a process of engaging learners in their cultural inheritance, described as “the conversation of mankind.” Bakhtin, an influential source for recent dialogic educational theory, argues that meaning requires the clash and interaction of multiple voices. There are a range of approaches to implementing dialogic education, varying in the extent to which they focus on teacher to student dialogue, small group dialogues, and whole class dialogues. All approaches include some idea of (1) a dialogic orientation toward the other, characterized by an openness to the possibility of learning, and (2) social norms that support productive dialogue. Published assessments of the impact of dialogic education in relation to general thinking skills, curriculum learning gains, and conceptual understanding have been positive. However, the assessment of dialogic education raises methodological issues, and new methodologies are being developed that align better with dialogic theory and with the idea of measuring increased dialogicity, or expanded “dialogic space.” Assuming that dialogic education works to promote educational goals, various hypotheses have been suggested as to how it works, including some that focus on the co-construction of new meaning through explicit language use, others that focus more on changes in the identity of students, and others on changes in the possibilities of engagement afforded by the culture of classrooms. There are many issues and controversies raised by dialogic education. One issue is the extent to which dialogue as a goal is compatible with a curriculum that pre-specifies certain learning outcomes. Another is the extent to which teaching a set of social norms and practices promoting dialogue might be a kind of cultural imperialism that fails to recognize and value the culture of the students. These and other challenges to dialogic education are part of a lively and constructive debate in the field, which values a multiplicity of voices within the broader context of convergence on the value of teaching through dialogue and teaching for dialogue.


Inference in Social Cognition  

D. Vaughn Becker, Christian Unkelbach, and Klaus Fiedler

Inferences are ubiquitous in social cognition, governing everything from first impressions to the communication of meaning itself. Social cognitive inferences are typically varieties of diagnostic reasoning or, more properly, “abductive” reasoning, in which people infer simple but plausible—although not deductively certain—underlying causes for observable social behaviors. Abductive inference and its relationship to inductive and deductive inference are first introduced. A description of how abductive inference operates on a continuum between those that arise rapidly and automatically (and appear like deductions) and those that inspire more deliberative efforts (and thus often recruit more inductive information gathering and testing) is then given. Next, many classic findings in social cognition, and social psychology more broadly, that reveal how widespread this type of inference is explored. Indeed, both judgements under uncertainty and dual-process theories can be illuminated by incorporating the abductive frame. What then follows is a discussion on the work in ecological and evolutionary approaches that suggest that, although these inferences often go beyond the information given and are prone to predictable errors, people are good enough at social inference to qualify as being “ecologically rational.” The conclusion explores emerging themes in social cognition that only heighten the need for this broader understanding of inference processes.


Vehicle-Related Causes of Flood Fatalities  

Andrew Gissing, Kyra Hamilton, Grantley Smith, and Amy E. Peden

Vehicle-related flood incidents represent a leading cause of flood fatalities, as well as resulting in an additional health system and emergency services burden. A large proportion of these deaths are preventable and represent an area of collaboration across a range of fields, including emergency services, disaster preparedness, floodplain management, public health, and road safety. The nature of the risk is exacerbated by increases in the frequency and severity of flood events in a warming climate and further urbanization. The nature of vehicle-related flood incidents is multidimensional, consisting of flood hazard, behavioral, vehicle, and road-related factors. Equally, strategies required to reduce the incidence of vehicles entering floodwater must be multidimensional, giving consideration to behavioral, regulatory, structural, and emergency response measures. Such an approach requires the involvement of a diverse range of stakeholders.


Socioeconomic Status and Cultural Difference  

Keiko Ishii and Charis Eisen

Socioeconomic status (SES) is a multidimensional construct based on access to material resources and one’s own rank relative to others in a social hierarchy. It fundamentally shapes individuals’ psychological and behavioral tendencies. In many ways, socioeconomic variation parallels East–West cultural dynamics. Like East Asian cultures, lower SES fosters interdependence, a reduced striving for personal choice, holistic thinking, and the attribution of events and behavior to external causes. In contrast, similar to Western cultures, higher SES supports independence, a strong desire for control, self-expression through choice, analytic thinking, and internal attribution. SES has also been found to shape additional psychological tendencies. Because limited access to resources and education makes it necessary to rely on other people, lower SES has been shown to be linked to a greater understanding of others’ emotions and a tendency to act altruistically. Although the evidence is still limited, this article describes what is known about the simultaneous influence of SES and culture. Some studies have explored similar SES effects across cultures. However, reflecting the variation in the dominant ideas and practices shared among people within sociocultural contexts, some studies have suggested that socioeconomic contexts elicit different psychological processes across national cultures. Higher-SES individuals especially seem to adjust themselves to culturally sanctioned ideas and practices. The article suggests directions for future research that will enhance our understanding of the interplay between SES and national cultures.



John F. Dovidio, Fabian M. H. Schellhaas, and Adam R. Pearson

Prejudice is an attitude toward a social group and its members that can be expressed as either a negative or positive (e.g., paternalistic) evaluation and creates or maintains hierarchical status relations between groups. The origins of prejudice include individual differences in personality and ideological preferences, socialization experiences relating to exposure to different social norms, and the functional ways that groups relate to one another. Prejudice can be measured directly through self-report measures or indirectly through patterns of behavior or with techniques such as response latency methods. Moreover, implicit prejudice, which is automatically activated, can be distinguished from explicit prejudice, an attitude people know that they hold and may be able to control. Both types of prejudice predict discrimination—the differential treatment of a group or its members—but the strength of these relationships varies as a function of a variety of contextual factors (e.g., social norms). Because of the wide range of forces that shape prejudice and the functional nature of bias, prejudice can be difficult to change. Among the more robust ways to reduce prejudice are strategies that promote frequent, positive contact with members of another group; encourage people to categorize others in ways that emphasize shared group identities; or alter automatic associations underlying implicit bias. The study of prejudice continues to be an important and actively researched topic in social psychology, with contemporary approaches increasingly considering a broader range of micro- (e.g., genetics) and macro-level (e.g., culture) forces that shape the nature of prejudice and its influence on discriminatory behavior.


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.


A Somatic Marker Perspective of Political Decision Making  

Xavier Noël, Nematolla Jaafari, and Antoine Bechara

Decisions on matters affecting a group by a member of that group (e.g., decisions on a political choice) engage a mix of cognitive and emotion-based resources. Political decision-making involves rationality, but also empathy, intuition, compassion, morality, and fairness. Importantly, coping with uncertainty, assuming risk, dealing with huge responsibilities and resisting disappointment and considerable pressure are also crucial. Some of those decision-making elements from a neurocognitive framework proposed under the somatic marker hypothesis (SMH) are developed here. Based on the observation of abnormal decision-making characterizing patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), the SMH affords discussions of mechanisms involved in antisocial decision-making in the political realm, such as engaging in immoral and corrupt behaviors. In addition, the SMH sheds light on pivotal attributes required for good leadership and governance, such as resistance to pressure, risk-taking, seduction, and dominance, discussed with respect to modern theories of psychopathic tendencies in the context of political decision-making.


Education Research on Developmental Social Cognition in Children and Adolescence  

Sandra Bosacki

Educational research on how children and adolescents make sense of the social world and how this social–cognitive ability develops across time and cultural contexts remains in its infancy. An important question for psychoeducators and developmentalists is how to best measure the diverse multidimensional and interconnected social–cognitive skills among children and youth. Research that explores social–cognitive skills such as theory of mind (ToM), self-regulation, and moral reasoning such as deception within the context of education explores this question. ToM refers to the ability to understand others’ mental states to explain behavior, and self-regulation refers to the ability to regulate or control one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. The measurement of multidimensional topics such as self-regulation and ToM is important for educators to help students learn important life skills such as perspective-taking and empathy. Such social reasoning skills will help students navigate the complex social landscape of the school. Multidisciplinary, transcultural, and mixed-method longitudinal studies provide fruitful investigations into the development of social–cognitive abilities and how this plays a role in children and adolescents developing a sense of self, relationships, and their understanding of others as intentional beings. Further systematic research is needed to explore the role of social–cognitive and metacognitive processes within young people’s personal, social, and educational worlds. In summary, future research needs to explore new interdisciplinary and dynamic developmental frameworks that aim to ignite new theories and empirical tests that build on extant models of neurobiological susceptibility and child and adolescent brain development. To advance research in applied developmental social neuroscience, interdisciplinary collaboration among developmental cognitive neuroscientists, educators, and clinicians must increase. For example, developmental scientists who work with cross-cultural, longitudinal samples could be recruited for scanning, whereas neuroscientists’ extant data sets could be made accessible to developmental scientists and educators. Such shared research could then be applied to the educational setting and provide opportunities for prevention and intervention models and assessment tools aimed to foster young people’s social–cognitive development.


Affect and Emotions in Social Cognition: How Feelings Influence Thinking  

Joseph P. Forgas

Affective states have a profound influence on how people view the world, yet the cognitive consequences of feelings for thinking have received relatively little attention until recently. There is growing evidence that people’s affective reactions have been shaped by evolutionary processes and have an adaptive influence on the way information is processed. There is now extensive evidence for the adaptive benefits of positive and negative affect for the way people think and process social information. Based on recent experimental research, there are two kinds of affective influences: affect congruence, in which an affective state influences the content and valence of thinking, and processing effects, where an affective state has a regulatory influence on the kind of processing strategy adopted. The evidence shows a broad spectrum of affective influences on memory, attention, inferences, associations, and judgments, as well as the way more complex social behaviors are planned and executed. All affective states, including the negative ones, confer significant adaptive benefits, serving as useful inputs to information processing strategies. These experimental findings, and recent theories linking affect and cognition have important practical implications for understanding how affective states influence everyday thinking and behavior.


Usage-Based Linguistics  

Holger Diessel

Throughout the 20th century, structuralist and generative linguists have argued that the study of the language system (langue, competence) must be separated from the study of language use (parole, performance), but this view of language has been called into question by usage-based linguists who have argued that the structure and organization of a speaker’s linguistic knowledge is the product of language use or performance. On this account, language is seen as a dynamic system of fluid categories and flexible constraints that are constantly restructured and reorganized under the pressure of domain-general cognitive processes that are not only involved in the use of language but also in other cognitive phenomena such as vision and (joint) attention. The general goal of usage-based linguistics is to develop a framework for the analysis of the emergence of linguistic structure and meaning. In order to understand the dynamics of the language system, usage-based linguists study how languages evolve, both in history and language acquisition. One aspect that plays an important role in this approach is frequency of occurrence. As frequency strengthens the representation of linguistic elements in memory, it facilitates the activation and processing of words, categories, and constructions, which in turn can have long-lasting effects on the development and organization of the linguistic system. A second aspect that has been very prominent in the usage-based study of grammar concerns the relationship between lexical and structural knowledge. Since abstract representations of linguistic structure are derived from language users’ experience with concrete linguistic tokens, grammatical patterns are generally associated with particular lexical expressions.


Intersectional Stereotyping in Political Decision Making  

Erin C. Cassese

Intersectionality is an analytic framework used to study social and political inequality across a wide range of academic disciplines. This framework draws attention to the intersections between various social categories, including race, gender, sexuality, class, and (dis)ability. Scholarship in this area notes that groups at these intersections are often overlooked, and in overlooking them, we fail to see the ways that the power dynamics associated with these categories reinforce one another to create interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage that extend to social, economic, and political institutions. Representational intersectionality is a specific application of intersectionality concerned with the role that widely shared depictions of groups in popular media and culture play in producing and reinforcing social hierarchy. These representations are the basis for widely held group stereotypes that influence public opinion and voter decision-making. Intersectional stereotypes are the set of stereotypes that occur at the nexus between multiple group categories. Rather than considering stereotypes associated with individual social groups in isolation (e.g., racial stereotypes vs. gender stereotypes), this perspective acknowledges that group-based characteristics must be considered conjointly as mutually constructing categories. What are typically considered “basic” categories, like race and gender, operate jointly in social perception to create distinct compound categories, with stereotype profiles that are not merely additive collections of overlapping stereotypes from each individual category, but rather a specific set of stereotypes that are unique to the compound social group. Intersectional stereotypes in political contexts including campaigns and policy debates have important implications for descriptive representation and material policy outcomes. In this respect, they engage with fundamental themes linked to political and structural inequality.


Cultural Variance and Invariance of Age Differences in Social Cognition  

Li Chu, Yang Fang, Vivian Hiu-Ling Tsang, and Helene H. Fung

Cognitive processing of social and nonsocial information changes with age. These processes range from the ones that serve “mere” cognitive functions, such as recall strategies and reasoning, to those that serve functions that pertain to self-regulation and relating to others. However, aging and the development of social cognition unfold in different cultural contexts, which may assume distinct social norms and values. Thus, the resulting age-related differences in cognitive and social cognitive processes may differ across cultures. On the one hand, biological aging could render age-related differences in social cognition universal; on the other hand, culture may play a role in shaping some age-related differences. Indeed, many aspects of cognition and social cognition showed different age and culture interactions, and this makes the study of these phenomena more complex. Future aging research on social cognition should take cultural influences into consideration.


Cognitive Therapy  

Joseph Walsh

Cognitive therapy is a perspective on social work intervention with individuals, families, and groups that focuses on conscious thought processes as the primary determinants of most emotions and behaviors. It has great appeal to social work practitioners because of its utility in working with many types of clients and problem situations, and its evidence-based support in the literature. Cognitive therapies include sets of strategies focused on education, a restructuring of thought processes, improved coping skills, and increased problem-solving skills for clients.