All human beings are products of their social environments. Social psychology is a fascinating field of study that explores the ways in which individuals are influenced by others. Specifically, it focuses on the thoughts, behaviors and feelings of individuals as influenced by the presence of other individuals, including the implied, imagined, or actual presence of those people. Some social psychologists choose to study a subspecialty of this field, called social cognition.
Basics of Social Cognition
Psychologists who study social cognition recognize that various cognitive processes contribute to the interactions and behaviors of individuals in social situations. Social cognition takes a look at the way in which individuals process, retain and apply data. Generally, psychologists define cognition as any unconscious processes that take place in the brain and result in neural implementations, also called representations.
Implications of Social Cognition
It’s possible for an individual to be alternatively aware and unaware of his or her own representations. For example, let’s say that a major news story came out about a topic of intense local interest. A downtown business owner will have one perspective on the topic, while a fast food worker may have an entirely different view on it. People are generally aware that they hold perspectives that are unlike those of other people. Despite this knowledge, people still make implicit judgments about the actions of other people that do not take these different perspectives into consideration. This can easily lead to misunderstandings and perhaps lingering ill will.
Development of Social Cognition
Social cognition is studied in several disciplines. In biology, social cognition takes a look at learning and behaviors within the social context. For example, it may study the group dynamics of pack animals, like social stressors and dominance conflicts. In developmental psychology, researchers study how children grow in awareness of other people as beings independent of themselves. For example, as a child’s social cognition develops, he or she begins to identify and understand his or her own motives, thoughts and feelings, as well as those characteristics of other people. The growth of social cognition in childhood, adolescence and early adulthood contributes to an individual’s use of pro-social behaviors, including interactions that take into account the perspectives of other people.
History of Social Cognition
If you pursue doctoral research in social cognition, it will be helpful to have a firm understanding of its roots and evolution over time. Some of the earliest philosophers to explore social cognition were Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle took an individual-centered view, whereas Plato took a socio-centered approach. Fast-forward to the 18th century, when Hegel theorized that the social mind is inextricably associated with society. Others took this a step further, exploring the idea of a collective mind. Notable examples are Lazarus and Steinthal, whose writings gave rise to the idea of volkerpsychologie. Volkerpsychologie asserts that humans develop distinct personalities directly because of the influences of culture and community.
Social cognition is one of the areas you can study as a doctoral learner at Grand Canyon University. Using the Request More Information button on the website, you can begin pursuing your Doctor of Philosophy in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Cognition and Instruction degree. GCU prides itself on fostering a dynamic learning community that embraces Christian values.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.