Social Cognition

Citation: Huitt, W. (2006). Social cognition. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [date], from

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Social cognition has its roots in social psychology which attempts "to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others" (Allport, 1985, p. 3). It studies the individual within a social or cultural context and focuses on how people perceive and interpret information they generate themselves (intrapersonal) and from others (interpersonal) (Sternberg, 1994).

A variety of researchers who started out investigating phenomena from other schools of thought have moved to this perspective. For example, Albert Bandura (1986) initially studied learning from a behavioral perspective (e.g., Bandura, 1965), while Jerome Bruner (1990) initially studied learning from a cognitive perspective (e.g., Bruner, 1957).

Festinger's (1957) cognitive-dissonance theory, Bem's (1972) self-perception theory (see Greenwald, 1975), and Weiner's (1985) attribution theory are additional examples of how the perspective of social cognition has been applied to the study of the learning process. A major implication of this perspective is that effective teaching must be grounded in an appropriate social environment (e.g., Hannafin, 1997).

One of the most important concepts developed by Bandura (1986) is that of reciprocal determinism. From this perspective, a person's behavior is both influenced by and is influencing a person's personal factors and the environment. Bandura accepts the possibility of an individual's behavior being conditioned through the use of consequences (Skinner, 1938). At the same time he recognizes that a person's behavior can impact the environment (Sternberg, 1988). The same is true of the relationship between personal factors such as cognitive skills or attitudes and behavior or the environment. Each can impact and be impacted by the other.

Two principles of human functioning related to student learning involve the processes of self-efficacy (can this be done; can I do it; see Pajares, 1996) and self-regulation (goals, plans, perseverance). These issues are sometimes referred to as conative processes. Conation refers to the connection of knowledge and affect to behavior and is associated with the issue of "why." It is the personal, intentional, planful, deliberate, goal-oriented, or striving component of motivation, the proactive (as opposed to reactive or habitual) aspect of behavior (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Muraven & Tice, 1998; Emmons, 1986; Huitt & Cain, 2005). It is closely associated with the concept of volition, defined as the use of will, or the freedom to make choices about what to do (Kane, 1985; Mischel, 1996). It is absolutely critical if an individual is successfully engage in self-direction and self-regulation.

The Implicit Association Test from the University of Washington and Yale University is an interactive example of how people's viewpoints of others are studied.

Several authors have recommended that social psychology use the dynamical systems perspective adopted at this site (e.g., Vallacher & Nowak, 1997; Watters, Ball & Carr, 1996). Cunia (2005) provides an excellent overview to the social learning and social cognitive theories of learning.


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