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What is Social Cognition?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Social cognition is an aspect of social psychology concerned with exploring the way in which people interact with each other and their environment. Specifically, social psychology focuses on the way in which information is encoded and stored by the brain so that it can be retrieved later. A number of cognitive processes are used in the process of storing social information, and in linking pieces of related information so that they can be retrieved when they may be valuable.

When people are interacting with each other, they are constantly in the process of storing new information while recalling existing information which may be helpful to the interaction. For example, upon meeting someone new, a person's brain will use basic information supplied, such as the age, race, and gender of the new acquaintance, to create associations which may smooth the social interaction. This information is recalled and used on an unconscious level.

People also store social information which they believe may be valuable. This can include memories of social experiences, information about specific people, and information about social groups. This information is used in future social interactions, and in later processing of social experiences. A number of cognitive processes come into play with social cognition, including the formation of stereotypes and other shortcuts for information processing.

Some students of social cognition theory are especially interested in the role of social cognition in early childhood development. The culture a child is raised in clearly has a strong impact on how that child develops, as illustrated in a number of studies. Researchers study how children process social information, and how social maturity evolves with age. Researchers may also be interested in people who lack social skills or who interact with people in ways which are unique, unfamiliar, or unusual.

It is important to be aware that much of social cognition takes place on a subconscious level. Many of the terms used in social psychology have a meaning outside this field; “stereotype,” for example, is often viewed as a negative concept, when in social psychology, it is a tool to help people process social information. Everyone forms stereotypes on a subconscious level; it is the conscious use and reflection of stereotypes which can become a matter for concern. Classifying people is a shortcut used by the brain to group similar information, but people do not necessarily need to act on the classifications provided by the brain.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sunshine31 — On Oct 10, 2010

Bhutan-There is a significant segment of the South Florida community that is Cuban or of Cuban American decent.

This voting block votes Republican without a doubt. They are staunch supporters of the Republican Party because of their disdain of Castro and his oppressive regime. Many of these Cubans lost everything to Castro and know first hand what communism can do to a community and they want no part of a liberal agenda.

They are usually in favor of legal immigration and feel that people should come to the United States legally. Contrary to what many experts believe, the Cuban community is not offended by taking a stronger stance on immigration. They receive automatic amnesty when they reach American soil, so those polices do not pertain to them.

This is an example of cognitive social psychology.

By Bhutan — On Oct 10, 2010

SurfNturf-Often social identity and social cognition involves little ideas in our minds of what people are like.

We may stereotype people without realizing it. We might assign a viewpoint for an entire segment of the population because of what we perceive their views would be.

For example, politicians always refer to the Hispanic voter as though Hispanics are monolithic and the same. But that could not be further from the truth. They also speak about Hispanics like if most lean towards the Democrat party which is also not true.

They have many political viewpoints.

By surfNturf — On Oct 10, 2010

Social psychology cognitive dissonance is really the feeling of experiencing two opposing viewpoints about something at the same time.

For example, if you buy a blouse and then get home and decide that the blouse may not have been such a good buy after all and you begin to have second thoughts regarding the purchase.

This social cognitive theory can make a person indecisive because they can not decide which feeling should prevail.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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