Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Social Knowledge

Understanding other people is a useful skill that makes the world more predictable. Our initial impressions of other people are often based on surface characteristics, such as physical appearance, which are immediately visible. We infer a person's character traits and personality from the characteristics we see.

Some traits, which have appropriately been called central traits, are more important than others in the process of impression formation. Traits also vary in the degree to which they can be confirmed or dis confirmed by observation. In combining a series of trait descriptors, people tend to average their values to arrive at an overall judgment. Accuracy of impression is an elusive issue, as eyewitness testimony in the courtroom has demonstrated.

The mental categories that represent social knowledge may be conceptualized in several ways. Most people have a set of implicit personality theories and social theories that represent their understanding of human behavior. More specific events are represented by schemes, prototypes, and scripts. A stereotype is a schema that summarizes beliefs about members of a particular group. In some instances, particularly in the case of a negative beliefs about member of a particularly in the case of a negative belief, a stereotype may reflect an illusory correlation between two actually unrelated factors.

The process of social cognition include the initial encoding of information and the subsequent retrieval of information from memory. Both the vividness and the distinctiveness of an event will affect its encoding. Moods, goals, and emotional states are also influential. Priming can affect the accessibility of a particular social category.

Because social information is so extensive, people have developed a set of heuristics or shortcuts to make their task simpler. The social inference process is also subject to a number of biases, including the false consensus bias.

The specific form of social interference that concern explanations for the outcomes of events is called causal attribution. In general, action ma be attributed to either a dispositional factor or situational factor. Several models are have been developed to explain various aspects of the attribution process. Biases are evident in out attribution as well. We tend, for example, to overestimate the influence of dispositional factors (the fundamental attribution error). At a more general level, explanations of events often reflect a belief in a just world.

Deaux, Kay. 1984. Social Psychology. Cole Publishing Company

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