Cognition, Perception, and Attitudes

1. Discussion of the basic purpose and function of schemas and the three basic processes that they influence, and how schemas may (or may not) be altered in the face of new information, with examples. Here is a definition of “magical thinking” and the three principles that pertain to this pattern of cognition. Below are examples of when people fail to take into account moderating variables into the judgment process.

2. Definition of nonverbal communication; the six basic emotions expressed in unique facial expressions; how body language, including gestures, posture, and movements, can communicate emotion, and the key nonverbal cues that may allow to recognize deception. Here is a discussion of gender differences with regard to decoding nonverbal behavior. Here is a comparison of Jones and Davis’ theory of correspondent inference with Kelley’s theory of attribution.

3. Here is an overview of the learning processes through which humans acquire attitudes (e.g., social learning, classical conditioning, subliminal conditioning, observational learning and instrumental learning). Here is a discussion of the basic functions that attitudes serve. Description of why and how people may resist persuasion by discussing reactance, forewarning, selective avoidance, biased assimilation, and attitude polarization. Examples of each follow.

People have limited cognitive abilities. Social cognition is how a person thinks about other people. A part of social cognition is schemas. Schemas are mental frameworks that focus on a certain theme that allows humans to organize social data. Once schemas are created, they shape attention, or what people notice, encoding, or what enters into memory and retrieval or remembering. Memory can represent inconsistent information. Schemas could distort one’s understanding of the social world, when they refer to unrealistic information. Schemas make one’s believe that its information is accurate, even when it is not.

To avoid information overload, people use heuristics or rules for making decisions quickly and effortlessly.  One heuristic is representativeness, which is the highly likelihood of a person to belong to a group, when she or he is similar to a typical member. Availability is another heuristic that implies that when it is easy to remember information, then the bigger is its impact on following decisions and judgments. Another heuristic is anchoring and adjustment, which makes one start with a number or value to later adjust. Priming is high availability if data after the exposures to events/stimuli. Heuristic is often an unconscious and automatic way to process information, unlike the controlled processing.

An example of this phenomenon is a former friend of mine. Although I believe she has some great qualities and she means well, she went through some health challenges, that perhaps were psychosomatic, and somewhat of a challenging and conflicting family history. I believe those were the cause for her viewing the world and most aspects of it, such as dating, education, politics, travel, etc. as negative. I believe that she rationalized her perceptions and views to keep herself in a comfort and safe zone, in her mind. I also believe she was unaware or unconscious of how negative she was and how unpleasant that was for the people around her, and especially for the people who cared about her. She used to complain to me that others viewed her as negative, and she would start avoid those same people or criticize them. I have tried in vane to help her snap out of her negative schemas and heuristics. I started keeping some distance and, finally I confronted her with the issue and encouraged her to work on it, because it was affecting our friendship. She then decided to de-commit from the friendship and I accepted and agreed with her wish.

People have a high negativity bias or sensitivity to negative data. People also have a high positivity bias or expectation of positive outcomes. Planning fallacy is the optimistic expectation to complete a task faster than how long it would realistically take. Each individual also assume that he or she experiences more positive events and less negative events than others. Humans, often, perceive the future optimistically.

Counterfactual thinking happens when people imagine what could have happened and, then, they feel sympathy towards others or regrets. This thinking can be stopped through hard cognitive efforts. An adaptive feature of this thinking allows people to assume that bad events were unavoidable.

People often use thought suppression to help themselves, such as the thought of alcohol, etc. Thought suppression can have a rebound effect and those particular thoughts once suppressed, now become more frequent, especially for people with high reactance. Magical thinking is irrational. An example consists of spiritual and/or religious thoughts that are not base on rationality but faith.

Moods affect how people perceive reality and also affect people’s memory. Affect can also affect creativity. Emotion provoking data can influence judgments and decisions, even when people ignore it. When people are positive, they tend to think more heuristically or systematically, in coherence with mental shortcuts, such as stereotypes. People use cognition to regulate their emotions.

Social perception is the process individuals use to understand other people. To understand others’ emotions, individuals use nonverbal communication, which is made of eye contact, body moves and poses, body language, touch, handshakes, and facial expressions. Non verbal communication is not universal, but it usually discloses or detects lies or deceptions. Women can interpret non verbal cues more easily than men.

Research showed that the tone of a speaker, whether it is sad or happy or reflective of another emotion, can influence the listeners’ moods. People react differently depending on what mood they are in. Moods are hard to conceal. The emotions of anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust are clearly show facial expressions. Emotions can appear in combination and with a different degree of strengths. Facial expressions are affected by the context or other situation cues.

Eye contact can indicate positivity and liking. Lack of eye contact can indicate mental retardation. Eye contact can go from gazing to staring, which could even indicate rage or hostility. Many repetitive movements, such s touching, rubbing, etc. can indicate nervousness or high level of arousal. Postures can indicate openness (open arms) or threat (closes arms, pointing, etc.). Gestures can be different in different cultures.

It is hard to determine deception, because most people assume others would not lie. Micro expressions, such as one expression (i.e. smile), quickly followed by another (i.e. frown), can mean a lie. Another way to detect lies is to pay attention to inter-channel discrepancies, because liars have a hard time managing all channels. For instance, liars could manage their facial expression but they many not be able to manage the maintenance of eye contact. Liars blink more often than others and show more dilated pupils. Exaggerated facial expressions or reactions can also reveal deception. Liars’ pitch of voice can be higher. Hesitation in speech can also reveal deception. Linguistically, liars may not use words to indicate themselves, may use negative emotion words often, and may be not specific and detailed.

Attribution is the understanding of why people have acted a certain way. Jones and Davis’s theory of correspondent inference says that people try to infer others’ traits by observing behaviors, such as freely chosen behavior that has uncommon effects and low social desirability. According to Kelley’s theory of attribution, behavior may derive from internal or external causes, such as consensus, consistency and distinctiveness. The causes can be stable or not and/or controllable or not. Discounting happens when people downplay the importance of the causes. Augmenting is attributing more weight to the cause that facilitates the behavior, instead of to the cause that inhibits the same behavior, when both causes exist. An example of augmenting is the boosting up of perceptions of entrepreneurial women.

Especially in Western cultures, an error of attribution is the correspondence bias, which occurs when explaining other’s actions, as caused by disappointments, even during a situational cause. Another error is the actor-observe effect, or attributing own behaviors to external or situational causes “but that of others to internal causes” (Baron, Byrne, & Branscombe, 2005). Again, especially for Western cultures, another error is the self-serving bias or the attribution of positive outcomes to internal causes “but negative causes to external ones” (Baron, Byrne, & Branscombe, 2005).

Often, depressed people behave the opposite of the self-serving bias and attribute positive events to external causes and negative events to internal ones. That is why depressed people tend to not take responsibilities, act like victims, feel helpless and see the world as their enemy. Attribution theory can help alleviate sexual harassment in the workplace. Asch’s and other recent research on (first) impression formation shows that first impression is important and is made of data about traits (exemplars), mental abstractions from observations and values, versus competencies. Impression management or self-presentation happens often and it consists of trying to make a good first impression, mainly through self-enhancement and other enhancement. Speed or rapid dating is an example of impression management.

Attitudes are evaluations of the world. People often have positive and negative attitudes for the same object, such as institutions. Attitudes can be acquired through others or social learning, which involves classical, observational or instrumental conditioning. Subliminal or unconscious conditioning of the stimuli can form attitudes. Social comparisons can also form attitudes, through individuals comparing their attitudes with the attitudes of others. Attitudes are interpretative framework to create meanings, to express one another, to feel sentiments towards others, to self-perceive and to perceive others. If the action is public, such as a political action, then audiences can either inhibit or encourage behaviors inconsistent with one’s attitudes. Situational constraints can prevent people from expressing their attitudes overtly, such as in the case of an average individual, pulled over by the police, or an authority. Individuals can have or not have personal experience with the attitude objects.

For instance, some people have never experienced a PhD program. Intentions from attitudes strongly predict behaviors. Spontaneous thinking, versus deliberate thinking, helps attitudes influence behaviors by shaping one’s perception of the situation. People process persuasive messages, such as ads, through systematic processing, or the attention on the message content, or through heuristic processing, or the use of mental shortcuts, such as, “Scientists are often correct”. Attitudes are quite stable. Reactance contributes to resistance to persuasion. Reactance is the negative reaction towards others’ effort to reduce one’s personal freedom. If one feels reactance, that person usually changes attitude. Resistance to persuasion can be increased by forewarning or by someone’s awareness that others want to change his or her attitudes. People maintain their current attitudes by selective avoidance or disregarding data that contradict own views.

Inoculation against counter attitudinal views is resistance to subsequent persuasion increasing when one receives arguments against his or her own views and receives others arguments that refuse the same counter attitudinal views. Cognitive dissonance is noticing discrepancies among own attitudes. It produces negative affect, such as confusion. Dissonance can be caused by forced compliance. Dissonance can then cause attitude-discrepant behavior. Strong reasons or large rewards cause less attitude change or the less-leads-to-more effect. Forced dissonance to make people aware of their own hypocrisy can cause behavioral changes.

Lastly, biased search explains attitude polarization. Attitude polarization occurs when a disagreement becomes extreme, even though the parties have same evidence. Biased assimilation is a factor in psychology, whose proponents are persuaded by positive anecdotal evidence but treat scientific evidence super critically.


Baron, R. A., Byrne, D. R., & Branscombe, N. R. (2005) Social Psychology. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Thank you.

Elena Pezzini, M.S., C.P.C.

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