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Chapter Review
Test Your Knowledge
Thinking Critically
Psychology Today
Textbook Site for:
Psychology, Sixth Edition
Douglas A. Bernstein - University of South Florida and University of Southampton
Louis A. Penner - University of South Florida
Alison Clarke-Stewart - University of California, Irvine
Edward J. Roy - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Chapter Outlines
Chapter 17: Social Cognition

    Two important components of the self are self-concept, the beliefs we have about our characteristics, and self-esteem, our evaluation of ourselves.
    1. Social Comparison
      According to the theory of social comparison, people use other people as a basis of comparison for self-evaluation when no objective criteria exist. Social comparisons involve comparing oneself to groups of other people called reference groups. Temporal comparisons involve comparing one's own past state to a present state. As changes occur over the course of life, people change reference groups. People may find their self-evaluations to be poor in comparison to others in the new group and begin to experience relative deprivation. Usually people do not compare themselves to others who are not in their immediate reference group. Chronic use of extreme reference groups can lead to depression and anxiety.
    2. Focus on Research Methods: Self-esteem and the Ultimate "Terror"
      Terror Management Theory proposes that humans cope with anxiety, especially anxiety related to knowledge that death will eventually occur, by establishing and maintaining high self-esteem. To test whether high self-esteem indeed buffers anxiety, researchers had 150 North American students participate in studies in which self-esteem was manipulated by having participants take a test, and providing either positive or neutral feedback on it. Next, participants were placed in either an anxiety-provoking or neutral situation. Afterwards, anxiety was measured. High self-esteem participants were less anxious in the anxiety-provoking situation than neutral self-esteem participants. Researchers concluded that the results supported Terror Management Theory. Future research must examine other ways people manage anxiety, with particular emphasis on other types of cultures.
    3. Social Identity Theory
      Many people form a social identity (also known as group identity), which may create associations based on nationality, gender, or religion. However, social identities can foster prejudice, discrimination, and intergroup conflict based on the "us versus them" phenomenon.
    4. Self-Schemas
      One's mental representation of self, or self-schema, can be unified or differentiated. People with a unified self-schema interpret failure as implying incompetence in all areas of their lives, whereas those with differentiated self-schemas limit feelings of failure to just the one failed life area. Self-schemas also contain future, or possible, selves. Discrepancies between the present and desired future selves can contribute to feelings of depression.
    Social perception refers to the processes through which people interpret information about others, draw inferences about them, and develop mental representations of them.
    1. The Role of Schemas
      People often use schemas, or mental representations, to perceive and interpret new information. Schemas influence our processing, retention, and judgment of new information.
    2. First Impressions
      Schemas allow us to quickly categorize a person we have just met. The first impression is formed quickly and is difficult to change.
      1. impressions. However, negative information is given more weight than positive information.
      2. Lasting Impressions. First impressions are difficult to change because they shape interpretations of new information. People tend to remember their initial general impressions better than later corrections.
      3. Self-Fulfilling Prophecies. An initial impression can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. People behave in ways that elicit behaviors consistent with their first impression of the person.
    3. Explaining Behavior: Attribution
      We make attributions about a person's behavior according to the internal characteristics of a person or to the external characteristics of the situation.
      1. Sources of Attributions. How people go about making attributions depends on consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. An internal attribution is made if consensus is low, consistency is high, and distinctiveness is low. An external attribution is made if consistency and consensus are both either low or high and distinctiveness is high.
      2. Culture and Attribution. Individuals from different cultures tend to make different kinds of attributions. Given the same information, individuals from one culture may make internal attributions, while individuals from another culture may make external attributions.
    4. Biases in Attribution
      1. The Fundamental Attribution Error. Attributional biases are tendencies to systematically distort one's view of behavior. The fundamental attribution error is the tendency to attribute other people's behavior to internal causes.
      2. Other Attributional Biases. The actor-observer bias is the tendency to attribute others' behavior to internal causes and our own behavior to external causes, especially when the behavior is inappropriate or involves failure. The self-serving bias is the tendency to take credit (make an internal attribution) for success and blame external causes for failures.
    5. The Self-Protective Functions of Social Cognition
      As in the self-serving bias, people are often motivated to think in ways that protect them from upsetting or threatening conclusions. Many people exhibit a pattern of unrealistic optimism; they believe that positive events are more likely and negative events less likely to happen to them than to others. Unique invulnerability contributes to unrealistic optimism.
    An attitude is a tendency to think, feel, or act positively or negatively towards an object in our environment.
    1. The Structure of Attitudes
      Attitudes have three components: cognitive (belief), affective (emotional), and behavioral (way of acting). These three components are not always strongly aligned. Four factors determine whether behavior will be consistent with other attitude components: agreement between the cognitive and affective components, attitude consistency with subjective norms, perceived control of the attitudinal behavior, and direct experience with the attitude object. Another theory suggests that behavior will be affected by how easily interconnected evaluations and beliefs come to mind.
    2. Forming Attitudes
      Learning plays an important role in attitude formation. Social learning is especially important; classical and operant conditioning can also produce positive or negative attitudes. The mere exposure effect plays a role in attitude formation; all else being equal, positive attitudes are positively correlated with exposure frequency.
    3. Changing Attitudes
      Persuasive communications can change attitudes, depending on several factors.
      1. Two Routes to Attitude Change. Attitude change depends on three things: characteristics of the communicator, message content, and audience. According to the elaboration likelihood model of attitude change, messages can change attitudes through two routes: peripheral (generally ignores content) and central (focuses on logic and content). The peripheral route is more likely when a person is busy thinking about something else.
      2. Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Cognitive dissonance theory holds that when attitudes and behaviors are inconsistent (or "dissonant"), people feel uneasy and are motivated to make them consistent. One way to do so is to change the inconsistent attitude.
      3. Self-Perception Theory. The self-perception theory suggests that when situations occur in which people are unsure about their attitudes, they will observe their own behavior and infer what their attitudes must have been.
    4. Linkages: Biological and Social Psychology
      Social neuroscience is an emerging field that focuses on the influence of social processes on biological phenomenon, and vice versa. Research showing stress's health consequences points to the importance of this field. New research shows that the amygdala is more active when a European American prejudiced person looks at a picture of an African American than at a picture of a European American. Though still in its infancy, social neuroscience shows promise for illuminating links between cognitive, social and biological phenomena.
    Stereotypes are general impressions or schemas of entire groups of people. They often lead to prejudice, a positive or negative attitude toward the group. The behavioral component of prejudice is often discrimination.
    1. Theories of Prejudice and Stereotyping
      1. Motivational Theories. People with authoritarian personalities tend to accept traditional values and unquestioningly follow orders of authority figures. To protect themselves from threats, they strongly identify with their own ethnic, cultural, or social group--known as their in-group, and they develop negative stereotypes of people in their out-groups.
      2. Cognitive Theories. Given the complexity of the world, people tend to categorize others in groups. Grouping people into social categories can result in stereotypes and illusory correlations between behavior and an ethnicity.
      3. Learning Theories. Children often learn stereotypes from their parents, their peers, and others.
    2. Reducing Prejudice
      The contact hypothesis states that stereotypes and prejudices about a group should be reduced as friendly contact between members of equal standing in the two groups is increased. Research suggests that intergroup contact has positive effects when members have equal social and economic status, are in a situation that demands interdependence and cooperation, interact on a one-on-one basis, and are perceived as typical of that group.
    3. Thinking Critically: Is Ethnic Prejudice Too Ingrained Ever to Be Eliminated?
      What am I being asked to believe or accept?
      People who deny having prejudices still have negative stereotypes about and show discrimination toward ethnic out-groups. These negative attitudes run so deep in all of us that ethnic prejudice can never be eliminated.
      What evidence is available to support the assertion?
      The theory of aversive racism suggests that although many European-Americans find ethnic prejudice aversive, they will still display it, especially when they don't have to admit that they are prejudiced. Several studies show that people who consider themselves unprejudiced are inclined to discriminate. Priming studies show that negative stereotypes can be activated even among people who believe they are free of prejudice.
      Are there alternative ways of intrepreting the evidence?
      If people are unaware of their prejudices, such views will be difficult to change. But unconscious stereotypes may not affect everyone in the same way.
      What additional evidence would help to evaluate the alternatives?
      Responses of nonprejudiced people need to be compared in different experimental situations. One study found that when unconscious stereotypes are activated in nonprejudiced people, the effects are more subtle.
      What conclusions are most reasonable?
      Prejudice may be subconscious in some people. We should carry on the fight against conscious stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.
    1. Keys to Attraction
      1. The Environment. Proximity is an important predictor of attraction. The more often people interact, the more they tend to like each other. The situation in which people meet also influences attraction. If people meet others in positive circumstances, they are more likely to be attracted to each other.
      2. Similarity. People tend to like others who have attitudes similar to their own, especially attitudes about other people. Attitudes influence attraction, and attraction influences attitudes.
      3. Physical Attractiveness. People tend to like attractive people. But, according to the matching hypothesis, people tend to form committed relationships with people who are similar in physical attractiveness.
    2. Intimate Relationships and Love
      1. Intimate Relationships. Interdependence and commitment to the relationship are the key components of intimate relationships.
      2. Analyzing Love. Sternberg's triangular theory of love suggests that love is a function of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Romantic love is characterized by passion and intimacy. Companionate love is marked by commitment and intimacy. The most complete and satisfying love is consummate love, which includes a high level of passion, intimacy, and commitment.
      3. Strong and Weak Marriages. People report high levels of marital satisfaction when the relationship is perceived as equitable. Marriages that will end in divorce do not involve more negative communications between partners than marriages that last, but they do involve significantly fewer positive communications.