Other Free Encyclopedias » Medicine Encyclopedia » Aging Healthy - Part 4 » Social Cognition - Social Cognition And Cognitive Mechanisms, Social Cognition And Social Knowledge, Social Cognition And Processing Goals

Social Cognition - Social Cognition And Cognitive Mechanisms

aging adults information person processing

In the mainstream social cognition literature, researchers use an information-processing approach to examine social cognitive processes. In particular, they examine how the accuracy of social perceptions can be impaired by cognitive load (i.e., attending to too many cognitive activities at one time). A heavy cognitive load depletes the resources required to devote the time necessary to make an accurate judgment or assessment of a situation. A good illustration of impaired social perception accuracy is exemplified in how a person’s behavior is explained. If a person is observed behaving in an anxious way, it may erroneously be inferred that he or she is, in general, an anxious person. However, the judgment would have been more accurate if the observer had considered the situational information. In this case the person was waiting to give an important speech to an audience of over a hundred individuals. This is an example of a ‘‘correspondence bias’’ where the cause of a person’s behavior is attributed to a predisposed characteristic and the observer does not attend to compelling extenuating circumstances. Dan Gilbert and colleagues found that the propensity to commit a correspondence bias was exacerbated if individuals had to attend to another task at the same time (i.e., increased cognitive load). In other words, they lacked the cognitive resources to deliberate and adjust initial judgments about people and events because they were busy thinking about something else. What implication does this have for the aging adult? Because older adults typically exhibit lower levels of cognitive processing resources (e.g., they are slower at processing information), this may impact their social judgment processes.

The literature on aging supports this notion. Fredda Blanchard-Fields found in a number of studies that older adults consistently exhibit the correspondence bias. In this case individuals are presented with stories in which a main character is associated with a situation’s negative outcome. For example, Doug insists that he continue to work long hours despite his wife’s protests, which results in their divorce. Older adults blamed Doug more than young adults. Older adults relied more on dispositional information (personality characteristics, the character of the individual) to explain the behavior and ignored compelling situational information (such as the wife’s pressure). Her studies have repeatedly shown that older adults tend to blame the main character in relationship conflicts with negative outcomes despite the existence of situational causal factors. In a number of studies Thomas Hess and colleagues have shown that older adults tend to rely on easily accessible knowledge as opposed to engaging in more elaborative processing. They have found that older adults do not modify their first impression of an individual when presented with new information, especially when positive information follows an initially negative portrayal of the individual. For example, when older adults are initially given a description of a person portrayed as dishonest and subsequently receive information about that person performing honest behaviors, they do not adjust their initial impression regarding honesty. Overall, it appears from these studies that limitations on processing resources could play an important role in understanding why older adults produce biased social judgments.

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