Impact of social cognition on people’s responses.
Social cognition means the way we perceive ourselves or the peoplearound us. The process of encoding, storage, retrieval and decodingof information regarding ourselves or those around us may influenceour responses to others and different situations.
As Mischel (349) writes, Psychologists in World War I were determinedto establish the different personalities of people based on theirsocial cognition. Initially, social characteristics were measuredusing the intelligence testing movement. Past research had revealedthat there were varying dimensions of human responses such asfriendliness, honesty and aggressiveness. The new crop ofpsychologists was interested in linking the social cognition ofparticipants to the aforementioned traits. Psychologists organizedthe study in a way that the responses of the subjects were self-reports. They used inventories such as the Bell adjustment inventoryand the Woodworth Personal data sheet. Some of the questions thatrequired a tick in the box located at the end of the sentence include‘I am a good mixer I am at ease with people I know….’ As thewriter says, the responses were not used as samples of relevantbehavior in the respondents, but as indicators of their relevantdisposition (p. 350).
The concept that was made clear by earlier psychologists regardingthe studying of people to ascertain their responses to varioussituations has been adopted by psychologists to determine therelationship between cognition and human traits. As Mischel writes(23), the person’s social cognitive learning approaches rely ontheir competencies in areas such as interests, encoding strategies,expectancies, values, and plans. He further specifies that the impactof personal variables on behavior affects interaction with others andtheir psychological conditions. The strategy that perceivers use toprocess information about a person is mainly affected by theirpurposes. The perceiver has a complex system of expectations thatwill affect how they view other people or their actions. As somepsychologists argued, the configurations are mere illusions in thehead of the perceiver. If treated well, they can learn to perceiveother people differently and therefore change their responses.However, through research, some psychologists such as Carl Rodgersfinally asserted that the perception of events, more than theirrealty or objectivity, determine how people act.
Cantor (360) gives a personal account of how social cognitioninfluenced his actions towards strangers in a New York Subway. Due toa rise in incidences of subway crime, Cantor created a mentalprototype of what a subway criminal should look like. When one day hewas in a subway, he could not help but examine every individual thatentered the car in an effort to locate the subway criminal inadvance. When he finally saw a suspicious criminal who matched theprototype that he had built on his mind, he decided to alight at thenext stop that was not his intended destination. While passing by thesuspected criminal on his way out, he found out that the bag he hadsuspected to hide a gun only had a book and a jogging outfit. Ofcourse, he arrived late at his intended destination because of thewrong perception he held on the stranger in the subway car.
As Cantor (365) explains, over time, the human brain develops aspecific cognitive structure- a set of beliefs and expectations- thataffects their responses to situations and people. The cognitivestructure of an individual is responsible for their categorization ofother people. Using the subway example, the author had built a mentalprototype of what a perfect criminal should look like. Worth noting,is the fact that the expectations and generalizations of anindividual are bound to change over time or after a psychologyexperiment. Social cognition also has an impact on the personality ofan individual. According to Cantor (365), his social cognition of asubway criminal had bestowed upon him two different personalities – aspineless weakling, and a cautious passenger.
In an experiment by Mischel Cantor and Schwartz, the psychologistsasked subjects to build images of different people such as criminals,joggers and teachers, or events (Cantor 370). The amount of timespent to come up with a complete prototype differed from one subjectto the other. However, the results were almost similar. Resultsshowed that situation images had more content than the person- in-situation images. People tend to form a clearer image of somethingthat they are not part of. The prototype perception that people buildin their minds is what controls their responses to different peopleand situations.
According to Higgins (376), Mischela and Shoda developed thecognitive- affective personality model to explain the reason behindthe different human behavior under different circumstances. Accordingto the model, behavior is not the result of a personality trait suchas aggression, introversion or arrogance. The behavior of a personwill largely depend on how they perceive themselves in a particularsituation. Consistent changes in a person’s behavior signify astable variety of within the person. Similar to Cantor’s line ofthinking, the model attaches social cognition to the behavior of anindividual.