Social Cognition

Topics: Psychology, Sociology, Heuristic Pages: 7 (2133 words) Published: July 30, 2014
1. Discuss the topic of social cognition and in particular the role of heuristics in the way we process information. Briefly describe two different heuristics and give examples of how and when they might be used as well as problems connected with their use.

The manner in which we interpret, analyze, remember, and use information about the social world is known as social cognition to social psychologists. This process has a large effect on our daily lives as we interact socially. The thought processes of social cognition is one that is “automatic”, therefore we quickly, effortlessly, and without careful reasoning interpret our social environment (Baron & Branscombe, 2012). This automatic process can lead to accurate judgments or can lead to significant errors in conclusions drawn.

Social cognition is multi-faceted, but there are simple rules for making complex decisions or drawing inferences in a rapid and seemingly effortless manner, these are known as heuristics. Rather than being careful, systematic, and effortful the components of social thoughts can be complex. There are many types of heuristics such as: representativeness, anchoring and adjustment, and availability.

The representativeness heuristic is a strategy for making judgments based on the extent to which current stimuli or events resemble other stimuli or categories (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 38). This means that by using this heuristic individuals are passing judgment on the simple rule: the more an individual seems to resemble or match a given group, the more likely he or she is to belong to that group. When the representativeness heuristic is imposed the individual uses a prototype, a summary of the common attributes possessed by members of a category, to pass their judgment. This approach to social cognition is used often for instance when we meet new people. We often judge by their characteristics to determine for instance what social circle they follow or if they are successful. This particular role may also lead to problems as well. For instance, I am in a supervisory position in which I oversee eight individuals and while at work I am in a suit and tie. But when I leave work I am dressed in normal apparel in which my tattoos show. If someone were to judge me based on my appearance out of work they would assume I am an unprofessional, unqualified, young man. They wouldn’t know that I have worked for 7 years in government work and am currently in school working on my Masters in Management. Judging a book by its cover is a weakness of many, but should not be the case always in social cognition.

The availability heuristic is a strategy for making judgments on the basis of how easily specific kinds of information can be brought to mind. This method suggests that the easier it is to bring information to forefront of one’s mind the greater its influence on judgments and decisions. The use of this heuristic is easy to understand because it suggests that important events should influence judgments and decisions. This however can lead to error in social judgments specifically by leading individuals to overestimate the likeliness of events that are dramatic but rare because they are easy to remember (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 39-40). Applying this heuristic is beneficial in instances such as decisions at work or in an academic environment. If an individual learns through experience that their supervisor or professor does not condone a certain action or behavior then they will remember this and act accordingly the next time they are in that setting. This heuristic can lead to errors for instance if a person has a bad experience while learning to drive. If they affiliate the action of driving automatically to this experience they will refrain from the action even though the incident is rare.

Social cognition is a term that defines a vast area of society’s social interactions. When interpreting the social world we...

References: Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social psychology (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
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