Most generally, this chapter is about social cognition, the mental activity that relates to social activities and helps us meet the goal of understanding and predicting the behavior of ourselves and others. A fundamental part of social cognition involves learning—the relatively permanent change in knowledge that is acquired through experience. We will see that a good part of our learning and our judgments of other people operates out of our awareness—we are profoundly affected by things that we do not know are influencing us. But we also consciously think about and analyze our lives and our relationships with others, seeking out the best ways to fulfill our goals and aspirations.
- 2.1: Sources of Social Knowledge
- Human beings have very large brains and highly developed cognitive capacities. Thus it will come as no surprise that we meet the challenges that we face in everyday life largely by thinking about them and then planning what to do about them. Over time, people develop a huge amount of knowledge about the self, other people, social relationships, and social groups. This knowledge guides our responses to the people we interact with every day.
- 2.2: How We Use Our Expectations
- Once we have developed a set of schemas and attitudes, we naturally use that information to help us judge and respond to others. Our expectations help us think about, size up, and make sense of individuals, groups of people, and the relationships among people. If we have learned, for example, that someone is friendly and interested in us, we are likely to approach them; if we have learned that they are threatening or unlikable, we will be more likely to withdraw.
- 2.3: Thinking Like a Social Psychologist About Social Cognition
- Consider your schemas and attitudes toward some of the many people you have met in your life—perhaps those you knew in grade school, the people in your family, or those in your church groups or other organizations. And also think about people you have only heard about rather than having met—maybe those from other countries or cultures. Did operant learning influence your opinions about them? Did you model your behavior after them?
- 2.4: Chapter Summary
- This chapter has focused primarily on one of the three ABCs of social psychology, namely, the ways that we learn about and judge other people—our social cognition. The ability to make accurate judgments about our social situation is critical: If we cannot understand others and predict how they will respond to us, our social interactions will be difficult indeed.