Social cognition refers to the ways in which people interpret information in social contexts and use it to inform how they behave within those contexts.
A simple example of social cognition is a person’s initial perception of someone they meet and how this initial perception affects their subsequent beliefs, interactions, thought-processes, and behaviors (known as the anchoring effect).
Similarly, we can observe that children tend to take on the beliefs and values of their parents. This, fundamentally, is because we are socialized into internalizing the belief systems of the important and influential people in our most intimate environments.
Social Cognition Examples
Attribution refers to the process of explaining the behavior of yourself or others. For instance, if you see a person behaving rudely, you might attribute this to them having a bad day- this is an example of situation attribution. On the other hand, you may consider them inherently ill-mannered- an instance of dispositional attribution. Fundamentally, attribution revolves around the cognitive process of associating causes to behaviors.
Stereotyping involves categorizing or labeling individuals based on their membership in a particular group or category. Suppose you meet a person for the first time and you make assumptions about their characteristics based on their nationality, religion, profession or similar factors. It’s vital to remember that while grouping helps humans cope with complexity, stereotypes often lead to oversimplification and can be the catalyst for discriminatory behaviors.
Go Deeper: The 9 Types of Stereotypes
3. Empathy and Emotional Mirroring
Empathy is the capacity to comprehend and share the feelings of another. For example, if a friend expresses sadness over a personal loss, you may also experience a sense of sorrow. This emotional mirroring plays a vital role in human social interactions and bonding. It helps to foster understanding, compassion, and support in interpersonal relationships.
Go Deeper: Empathy Examples
4. Social Perception
Social perception entails the way in which you construct impressions of others based on their observable behaviors and cues. To demonstrate, you may form an impression of a coworker being diligent based on multiple instances of them working late. It is a key factor in social cognition, shaping our attitudes and behaviors towards others based on the perceptions we create.
Self-concept is the overall perception of oneself. It’s an internal mirror reflecting your identity, including attitudes, beliefs, and personal traits. For instance, you may see yourself as diligent and intelligent, shaping your academic or career behavior. It can either be positive or negative, influencing your attitude, self-esteem, and interpersonal relations. Interestingly, self-concept is believed to be formed through our perception of how others see us. For more on this, scroll to the bottom of the article where I discuss ‘the looking glass self’ theory.
Go Deeper: Self-Concept Examples
Socialization refers to the lifelong process of inheriting social norms, customs, and worldviews from society. It plays a crucial role in shaping an individual’s behavior and perceptions. For example, a child learns to eat with a fork and knife, wears appropriate attire, and respects elders — these behaviors are primarily learned rather than innate.
Go Deeper: Learn about Anticipatory Socialization
Internalization is a psychological process where individuals integrate societal standards and values as a part of their own self. It’s a step beyond socialization, where you internalize your society’s beliefs as your own. Suppose you grow up in a culture where punctuality is highly valued. As you internalize this value, you’re likely to ensure you arrive on time for all appointments, integrating it into your code of conduct. It’s an integral part of social cognition, ensuring shared norms and behaviors across society.
8. Heuristics in Social Judgement
Heuristics are mental shortcuts individuals use to aid in decision-making and problem-solving. They speed up the process of reaching conclusions, especially in social judgments. One common social heuristic is the “availability heuristic,” where you base estimates of event likelihoods on how quickly and easily you can retrieve similar instances from memory. If you can quickly remember a friend losing their job, you might overestimate the chances of yourself being fired – a heuristic in play.
Go Deeper: The 22 Types of Heuristics
9. Upward Social Comparison
Upward social comparisons involve comparing yourself with individuals perceived to be more successful or superior in certain aspects. When you see your friend running a marathon and wish to achieve the same fitness level, it’s an upward social comparison. While this can motivate self-improvement and provide role models, it may also lead to negative feelings like inadequacy or envy if the comparison is unrealistically high.
Go Deeper: Upward Social Comparison Theory
10. Downward Social Comparison
As the opposite of upward social comparison, downward social comparisons involve comparing oneself to those perceived as less fortunate or successful. If you’re upset about not getting a promotion, yet feel better after hearing about someone who lost their job, you’re making a downward social comparison. Such comparisons are often used as a defense mechanism to feel better about oneself or one’s situation.
Go Deeper: Downward Social Comparison Theory
Groupthink is a phenomenon in which the desire for unanimous agreement within a group compels its members to suppress dissenting viewpoints. Imagine a corporate board meeting where everyone outwardly agrees with a faulty plan because they fear the repercussions of dissent, like losing favor or appearing non-conformist. This leads to poor decision-making as it inhibits creativity, critical analysis, and can steer the group toward irrational actions.
Go Deeper: How Groupthink Affects Society
12. Halo Effect
The Halo effect is a cognitive bias where a positive impression in one aspect leads to inflated judgments in other unrelated areas. If you perceive a celebrity as attractive, you may automatically assume they are also kind, intelligent, and funny, even in a lack of information about these traits. The halo effect impacts our perceptions of others and can significantly influence decisions in various social contexts, such as hiring procedures or evaluations.
13. False Consensus Effect
The false consensus effect is a cognitive bias that results in individuals overestimating the extent to which their beliefs, values, and behaviors are shared by others. For example, if you prefer coffee over tea, you might believe that most people also share your preference, disregarding actual statistical evidence. This effect can cause miscommunications, conflicts, and foster division in social situations.
Go Deeper: About the False Consensus Effect
14. In-group Bias
In-group bias is a pattern of favoring members of one’s in-group over out-group members. This can be expressed in evaluation of others, in allocation of resources, and in many other ways. A simple example might be favoring your coworkers (in-group) over individuals from another department (out-group) when it comes to seating arrangements in a company event, believing your team is more deserving.
Go Deeper: Ingroup Bias Examples
15. Bystander Effect
The bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help in a crisis when other people are present. Imagine you witness an accident on a crowded street but you assume someone else will call for help, and hence, do nothing. This effect illustrates how we sometimes shirk individual responsibility when in the presence of others, impacting social responses to emergencies.
Go Deeper: Learn About the Bystander Effect
16. Social Facilitation
Social facilitation is the phenomenon where an individual’s performance improves when done in the presence of others. For instance, if you work out harder in a fitness class than when alone at home, you are experiencing social facilitation. The increased competitiveness and desire to perform well in front of others can enhance motivation and thus, performance.
Go Deeper: Social Facilitation Examples
17. Social Loafing
Social loafing is the tendency for individuals to reduce their effort when working in teams compared to working alone. Suppose you have a group project; you might not work as hard because you assume others can pick up your slack. This behavior often leads to reduced overall productivity in group settings and can cause resentment and conflict in teamwork scenarios.
Go Deeper: What Causes Social Loafing?
Deindividuation is when people lose their individual self-awareness and inhibitions when they are part of a large group, often leading to irrational behavior. Imagine being at a concert, and you start dancing wildly, something you wouldn’t usually do if you were alone. This state happens when the anonymity and excitement of being part of a crowd cause people to behave in ways they wouldn’t typically do.
Go Deeper: The Effects of Deindividuation
19. Primacy Effect in Impression Formation
The primacy effect refers to the tendency to remember and be influenced more by the first information we receive about someone. Suppose you meet someone who initially comes off as reserved. Even if they later demonstrate outgoing traits, you might still hold onto your first impression of them being introverted. In social cognition, this effect plays a significant role in shaping and maintaining our views of others.
Go Deeper: Primacy Effect Examples
20. Recency Effect in Impression Formation
The recency effect is the opposite of the primacy effect, emphasizing the influence of the most recently presented information. For example, if a colleague usually neglects their duties but recently started being attentive, you might overlook their past negligence and perceive them positively. Both primacy and recency effects highlight how order and timing influence our impressions of others.
Go Deeper: Recency Effect Examples
21. Beauty Bias
Beauty bias, often referred to as ‘lookism’, is the positive attributes society tends to assign to physically attractive individuals. If you believe someone is friendly or trustworthy simply based on their physical attractiveness, you’re experiencing beauty bias. This bias, pervasive and often unconscious, can lead to social inequalities and discrimination.
1. Social Cognitive Theory
As a sub-branch of the broader field of cognitive psychology, social cognitive theory focuses on the ways in which environmental, social, and culturally-mediated interactions.
The theory challenges the idea that all humans develop in a universal set of linear stages, but instead, the way we develop depends upon the situations and context in which we find ourselves. The key theorist from this theory is Lev Vygotsky.
2. The Looking Glass Self
The Looking Glass Self is a concept within sociology, coined by Charles Horton, which suggests that our self-concept and identity are largely shaped by how we believe others perceive us.
In simpler terms, we see ourselves through the ‘looking glass’ or perspective of other people.
From this perspective, your identity isn’t solely an internal construct, but hinges on your interpretations of how others see you. Take for instance: if your peers often praise your leadership qualities, you’ll likely see yourself as a good leader.
3. Theory of Mind
Theory of Mind is the cognitive ability to attribute mental states – such as beliefs, desires, intentions, and emotions – to oneself and to others.
This theory recognises that each person has a mind of their own, distinct from ours, which shapes their behavior and experiences. Examples could be as simple as understanding that your friend feels happy because they passed a test, or that your sibling is angry because you haven’t done your chore.
Through this theory, we can see that our social perceptions and behaviors are inherently informed by a mental attribution process – we continually interpret our own and others’ mental states and approximate how these states affect behaviors.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]