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the social cognition thread OR how and why people are dumb

deep

TRIBE Member
so I'm a bit bored and thought I'd throw out some stuff that I think makes for interesting discussion.

Social Cognition is a relatively new field of study which uses technical tools from cognitive science to better understand social phenomena. In other words, it takes a bit more scientific approach to explaining shit that has real world, practical relevance.

The findings in this field of study are fairly interesting and sit on a nice bridge between academic and the real world. So it's not typically as dry as cog sci can be with more information you can use in every day life.

I'll start by stating some basic perceptual tendencies people have, and try to keep from talking about specific studies since that will probably bore people. I can go into them if anyone desires though.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts people have in processing information from the outside world. They are entirely necessary features in the way we think. If we didn't have these shortcuts to speed up our thinking in the world, we'd be completely overwhelmed trying to take in all pertinent information. For example, having a heuristic that a man brandishing knife and making stabby motions towards me = bad is a good thing, since it means that we don't actually have to get stabbed in order to find out.


The problem with heuristics, though, is that they can end up leading to inaccurate assumptions or beliefs because they're based on insufficient evidence. To extend the aforementioned example, to think that black man = bad might be more due to shitty heuristics than it is any realistic truth.

The quality of heuristics that people have is typically limited by their experiences and how "well thought out" they've tried to make them. If this sounds like a basic explantion for why ignorant people maintain ignorant views, you're catching on.

One heuristic people fall prey to is the Representativeness Heuristic. What this shortcut does is as follows. If something someone encounters (such as a person or an event) seems highly similar to an existing category we have, we see that encountered person or event as being a member of that category.

Makes sense doesn't it? If you encounter something that is similar to something you already know about, they're probably the same thing. After all, if it looks like a horse, talks like a horse, etc. it''s probably a horse.

The problem, however, comes when the information people use to categorization things isn't entirely representative. With complex subjects such as people, you can have many facets to a person but only get to see some of them. So seeing just one thing isn't representative of their entire being.

As a result, you can categorize them based on what little you see and never think twice that maybe you don't know enough to make a categorization. How you categorize things is important, because it gives you general information that you can use for what you encounter.

For example, if you see behaviour from a person that seems highly jerk-like, even though that behaviour may not be entirely representative of them, you can classify them as a jerk. Consequently , your explanations for any more behaviour comes from the perspective that they're a jerk.

When you encounter ambiguous behaviour from them, you can assume that they're being a jerk even though they may not be. For the person making this categorization, however, they usually don't think twice that their explanations are off. In truth, they'd probably feel as though what they think is right on the money since it agrees with what they already think. So how you feel isn't necessarily a valid diagnostic in whether or not you're wrong or right.

A further problem with the Representativeness Heuristic is that people do not necessarily adapt their categorizations even when they're given evidence to do so. Instead, they tend to cling to the first categorizations they make. This is essentially the basis for the idea that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression".

Ignorance of Base Rates is another major social cognitive heuristic. This is the tendency for people to ignore statistical facts when they're presented with highly vivid information. For example, this is part of the reason why there exists racial profiling. Because people have a vivid impression of what certain races are predisposed to, they can ignore the statistical likelihood that someone will actually commit a crime and instead base their thinking upon the vivid information before them.

It's also part of the reason why people make what's called the Fundamental Attribution Error. The Fundamental Attribution Error basically works like this : when we make a mistake, we pass it off to situational factors. This is related to the ignorance of base rates in that we ignore the fact that people do statistically fuck up over time, including ourselves. So we can come to think that we are less suceptible to error as our peers.

More on the Fundamental Attribution Error : When other people make a mistake, it's because of something to do with their personality. The practical implications of this error is that the mistakes we make are transient and not likely to happen again because it was the situation. But when other people fuck up, it's because of something to do with them.

A real world example : when someone gets beaten in a competition and starts to come up with situational factors that affected their performance rather than embracing the possibility that they might have just been bested.

There's a flipside to this. When we succed, we tend to attribute it to stable characteristics to do with ourselves. Again, making it more likely that this success was all planed and will happen again. When other people succeed, we sometimes explain in it terms of transient situational factors, i.e. that they were "just lucky" rather than having done something right.

As you might surmise, the Fundamental Attribution Error is pretty good for the ego. It makes us feel more competant and less prone to error than our peers. The problem is that it's a subjective misrepresentation of reality. And that people may not think that they're tainting the world for their own benefit this way when they actually are.

Back to the Representativeness Heuristic, as aforementioned it can affect the causal judgments that people make.

For example, tossing a coin. In reality, flipping a coin obeys a fairly predictable statistical pattern. In other words there is a 50/50 shot that it will be one or the other. In practice, people treat it as though it's a random process, because they can't see the statistical pattern in front of them. Because it seems "random" and "unpredictable", they categorize the event as being random and predictable, and think in line with this.

For sports fans, Representativeness has important implications. When a player in a sport is playing well, people categorize the players actions as being representative of them being "on fire". Consequently, they begin to expect better performance from the player. In reality, research by Gillovich has shown that a player's lifetime performance is a better predictor of how they'll perform in any given situation than is whether or not they've been on a "streak" of late. However, in practice, people tend to estimate player's performance more by how they've been doing lately rather than how they've done over time. This is probably something useful to keep in mind if you like betting on games (I'm looking in your direction paddy) .

I'll post this for now and keep going on about other stuff if people are interested.
 
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defazman

TRIBE Member
deep, did you just spend a bunch of money on university to learn a fancier name for stereotyping?
 

deep

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by defazman
deep, did you just spend a bunch of money on university to learn a fancier name for stereotyping?
no, to get a piece of paper though...

I'll get into stereotypes later on :) That stuff so far is just basic. There's some interesting stuff about stereotypes , on who holds them, how it manifests itself in modern society, when and where they come out, and why people cling to them. Given recent discussion on violence that was connected to race maybe people would find it interesting.
 
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defazman

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by deep
For example, tossing a coin. In reality, flipping a coin obeys a fairly predictable statistical pattern. In other words there is a 50/50 shot that it will be one or the other. In practice, people treat it as though it's a random process, because they can't see the statistical pattern in front of them. Because it seems "random" and "unpredictable", they categorize the event as being random and predictable, and think in line with this.
there is no statistical pattern. One toss is independant of the next. Believing there is a predictable statistical pattern is a good example of Representativeness Heuristic.
 

deep

TRIBE Member
Re: Re: the social cognition thread OR how and why people are dumb

Originally posted by defazman
there is no statistical pattern. One toss is independant of the next. Believing there is a predictable statistical pattern is a good example of Representativeness Heuristic.
You're right, my example was not particularly good.

Let me revise it. Say someone observes 5 coin tosses and sees it land heads 4 out of 5 times. A conclusion that the coin is unfairly weighted because it resulted in heads 80% of the time would be falling prey to the representativeness heuristic, because people overestimate how representative the sample they're observing is of a greater conclusion. As mentioned earlier, ineffective categories result when the encountered instances is not effectively diagnostic of category membership, or takes into account too little information before categorization is made. Thus extending the # of tosses before making a prediction would probably change perceptions of how "unfair" the coin is, letting people see it is a relatively randomized occurence.
 

defazman

TRIBE Member
deep, i have a feeling that if we combined your knowledge of Social Cognition with my knowlegde of statistical analysis, we could rule the world.
 
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graham

Well-Known TRIBEr
Originally posted by defazman
deep, i have a feeling that if we combined your knowledge of Social Cognition with my knowlegde of statistical analysis, we could rule the world.
I think the jocks already claimed the world
 

PosTMOd

Well-Known TRIBEr
Originally posted by deep
A further problem with the Representativeness Heuristic is that people do not necessarily adapt their categorizations even when they're given evidence to do so. Instead, they tend to cling to the first categorizations they make. This is essentially the basis for the idea that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression".
I believe that's called the Anchoring Heuristic... but I ain't no scientician.
 
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deep

TRIBE Member
Originally posted by Big Cheese
more
okay, the Availability Heuristic is a good one to talk about, since it's pretty much 99% of the reason why people get into fights on the intarweb.

The basic premise of the availability heuristic is that we underestimate how our judgments are based typically on available information is to us rather than the "big picture".

If the available information is indicative of the big picture, then we're okay. But often times what is available is not the whole story. Which is where problems arise.

For example, we can think of things as being more likely to happen simply because evidence comes easily to mind.

This is essentially the reason why people today perceive the world as a fucked up place. Popular media and news they are typically inundated with images that suggest that.

Things like child molestation, cannibalism, murder, terrar, etc. easily come to mind. Because these things easily come to mind, people can overestimate how much of a threat they actually are in real life. In other words ignoring the statistical truth of the matter simply because evidence sticks out in their heard. It's like when people say that you're more likely to die in a car accident than a plane crash, but people have a fear of flying nonetheless.

The Availability Heuristic is also the reason why we are typically egocentric in the way we think, unable to take on someone else's perspective. This isn't necessarily our fault. The fact that we simply have more information about ourselves than we do for others is what produces this effect.

You can't really get around it unless you make an active effort to try and understand as much as possible about where someone is coming from. But in practice most people totally underestimate how little they comprehend about people, instead basing their judgments on what information they have available, and thinking that information is sufficient.

Egocentricity becomes apparent when we're giving credit to people or things. In studies of a variety of relationships - be they marital, platonic or business - people overestimate the amount of contribution they make to a relationship and underestimate how much their partner does. For no other simple fact than that information is more salient (accessible) to them. Not because it's actually true. But for the people making these assessments they don't feel as though they're making an inaccurate or unfair assessment. They just don't appreciate how much more information they have to base evaluations of their own contribution on, as opposed to how little they have of others.

As you might surmirse this is essentially at the core of most people's fights on the internet. Someone will have available to them a person's behaviour or comments in a highly specific situation (such as a post in a thread). People will typically ignore the fact that a single post is not the whole story about a person. So they will essentialy react, make criticism or judge character based on that limited information. Then the fighting ensues because when criticism is out of line with reality (or more simply, out of line with what people want to believe about themselves), people are typically offended.
 
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deep

TRIBE Member
Re: Re: the social cognition thread OR how and why people are dumb

Originally posted by PosTMOd
I believe that's called the Anchoring Heuristic... but I ain't no scientician.

Anchoring is a separate but related cognitive tendency to Representativeness, but you're right that it is part of the reason why people stay stuck to their initial operating assumptions.
 
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