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The Sociocultural Level of
4.1 Sociocultural Cognition
1. Human beings are social animals and we
have a basic need to belong
2. Culture influences behaviour
3. Because humans are social animals, they
have a social self. People do not only have an
individual identity, but also a collective or
social one
4. People’s views of the world are resistant to
• Culture can be defined as the norms and
values that define a society
Be Reflective
1. Brainstorm a list of the groups to which
you belong.
2. How important are these groups in your
personal identity?
3. What needs do these different groups
fill in your life?
Research Methods
More qualitative
Participant observation
Descriptive data
Overt observation
Covert observation
Participant Observation
• Overt Observation: example – O´Reilly 2000
studied British expatriates on the Costa del Sol
• Ethical considerations
• Covert: Example – Leon Festinger et al’s When
Prophecy Fails 1956 in Chicago – a religious
• Ethical
Attribution Theory
• Attribution is defined as how people interpret
and explain causal relationships in the social
• Humans have a need to understand why things
Example: 1. Explain why to this scenario: You are
sitting in an restaurant, waiting for your date to
show up. He or she is late. What is your explanation
to why he or she is late?
2. You received a high grade on a test. What is your
explanation to the high grade?
Attribution Theory
• Who (or what) is responsible?
For poverty? For unemployment?
For alcoholism? For my math grade?
• whether we help and how we help
– “Who is responsible for the problem?”
– “Who is responsible for the solution?”
Attribution Theory
• By Heider 1958, based on the assumption that
people want to try to explain observable
behaviour (like a scientist).
• Dispositional or situational factors
• People have a need for it and tend to look for
causes and reasons (motives) to construct our
own causal relationships
• Want to be able to understand, predict and
control the environment
Attribution Theory
• Cultures construct their own causal explanations,
for example the origin and meaning of life
• Sometimes people apply motives and
dispositions to objects or choose to believe in
fate or witchcraft
• Example: Evan-Pritchard 1976, Azane people in
central Africa belived it was witchcraft that killed
several people when a doorway collapsed when
the door had been eaten through by termites.
The Actor-observer effect
When people discuss their own behaviour, they
tend to do attribute it to situational factors
(external) “bad luck” “had a cold”
The tendency to think: "If others make mistakes,
it's their fault. If I do it, it's not my fault.
It's due to the situation I'm in."
When people observe someone else’s behaviour,
they are more likely to attribute it to dispositional
factors (internal) “he is so nice” “she is so smart”
Errors in Attributions – illogical
The Fundamental attribution error
• Is when people overestimate the role of
dispositional factors in an individual’s behaviour,
and underestimate the situational factors
• “she helped me – so she must be nice”
• “what an idiot,
he didn’t say hello today”
• Example: Read Lee Ross et al.
1977 , p. 105
• has helped us to understand how people make
common errors when they try to explain what
happens in the world
• Supported by many studies
• culturally biased (why do you think?)
• Lab and sampling bias (explain why)
Errors in attribution
• Self-Serving bias (SSB)
The tendency to make personal attributions for
successes and situational attributions for failure
For example: a good grade – I am so smart!
A low grade – bad teacher/ been sick/ wrong
Example: Read Lau & Russel’s (1980) study about American football
coaches and players
Why do we do this? (Greenberg et al. 1982)
Strength of bias depends on…
• If one is depressed – the thinking pattern
• Which culture one is from, for example:
Modesty bias – cultural differences in SSB
US and Japanese students, Kashima and Triandis
1986 asked to remember details from slides from
unfamiliar countries and then asked to explain their
Why do you think that is?
Do our attitudes influence our actions?
– More so when we are more self-conscious
Do actions influence our attitudes?
Cognitive dissonance (Festinger)– when attitudes and
behavior contradict each other … what changes?
Biases in Judgment
Implicit Personality Theory
– People assume that certain aspects or traits go
• Halo effect: We assume people we like have good
characteristics, even if we haven’t seen them, or perceive
more characteristics as positive as well without knowing
• An example would be judging a good-looking person as more
intelligent. (see video on attraction on the blog, job interviews)
Self-concept bias
Primacy effects
– What we consider important in ourselves is often what
we consider important in others
– People are influenced more by info they receive early in
an interaction than by info that appears later
– We will even re-interpret new information so that it
fits our earlier impression of people
• Would you like to do some role-playing?
1. The fundamental attribution
2. Self-serving bias
3. Cognitive dissonance
Social Identity Theory
Social Identity Theory
• Henry Tajfel developed this theory
• Which assumes that individuals strive to improve
their self-image by trying to enhance their selfesteem based on either personal identity or
various social identities
• In other words, We also enhance the sense of
identity by making comparisons with out-groups.
• Social identity is different from personal identity,
which is derived from personal characteristics
and individual relationships.
Social Identity Theory
• Example: When abroad, especially in countries
which have particularly different languages
and cultures, we feel our nationality far more
keenly than when we are at home. We will
tend to band together in national groups,
perhaps making comments about the
strangeness of the natives.
• Recognize yourself?
Social identity Theory
• Based on Social categorization
• In-group (us) – out-group (them) and by social
comparison one maintain one’s self-esteem
• This is done automatically, as soon as we
consider us being part of a group, even when
it is by chance/casually assigned. Is there one
between DP1 and DP2? Other classes?
• absence of competition – not necessarily a
negative outcome
• Describes
• Does not predict
• In Some cases our personal identity is stronger
• Fails to address the environment
Social Representations – foundation
of social cognition
• The shared beliefs and explanations held by the
society in which we live or the group to which we
belong (Moscovici 1973)
• “cultural schemas”
- Provide a common understanding for
communication within the group
Stereotypes & Prejudice
• Write down the first thing that comes to your
mind when I say the following…and be honest.
• WE ALL have stereotypes!
IB student
IV student
Blond girl
• Is defined as social perception of an individual
in terms of group membership or physical
attributes. It is a generalization that is made
about a group and then attributed to
members of that group.
• Can be either positive or negative.
Implicit Association Test (Harvard)
• Online test that tests your attitudes (implicitly)
• The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures
attitudes and beliefs that people may be
unwilling or unable to report.
• The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows
that you have an implicit attitude that you did not
know about.
• For example, you may believe that women and
men should be equally associated with science,
but your automatic associations could show that
you (like many others) associate men with science
more than you associate women with science
What are implicit and explicit
• Stereotypes are the belief that most members of a
group have some characteristic.
• Some examples of stereotypes are the belief that
women are nurturing or the belief that police officers
like donuts.
• An explicit stereotype is the kind that you deliberately
think about and report.
• An implicit stereotype is one that occurs outside of
conscious awareness and control.
• Even if you say that men and women are equally good
at math, it is possible that you associate math with
men without knowing it. In this case we would say that
you have an implicit math-men stereotype.
• After completing one IAT, answer the
questions on the handout in writing (on the
• Your answers may be short – the importance
is that you reflect upon implicit stereotypes
and the potential consequences they may
have on people’s behaviour (including you)
Formation of stereotypes
(how do we get them?)
• Stereotyping is form of social categorization
that affects the behaviour of those who hold
the stereotype and those who are labelled by
a stereotype.
• Schema processing
Formation of stereotypes
Social categorization (Tajfel)
Personal experience and gatekeepers (the
media, parents…)
Campbell: grain of truth hypothesis
(although remember the errors in attribution)
Hamilton and Gifford: stereotypes are the
result of an illusory correlation – people see a
relationship between two variables even
when there is none
Formation of stereotypes
o Confirmation bias – seek out support for the
stereotype, which makes stereotypical
thinking resistant to change
o Snyder and Swann (1978) conducted a study
which showed just that with female college
students (introverted vs. extroverted)
o Methods one use to study stereotyping,
prejudice and discrimination…? Due to social
desirability effect and “politically correct”
Another teacher who wanted to teach
through role-playing…
• Jane Elliot –A Class Divided
Stereotype Threat (stereotypes effect on behaviour)
• The effect of stereotypes on an individual’s
• Spotlight anxiety (Steele 1997)
• Women and Math (Spencer et al. 1977)
• Ethnicity and different abilities (Steele and
Aronson 1995)
Videos on the blog
Stereotype threat affects cognitive
Women and Math stereotype threat:
Stereotype threat:
• Find two examples of stereotypes in the
media (newspaper, books, posters, films,
• Bring it to class and explain why the image
represents a stereotype.