Research team on Social Cognition : SoCog
The research conducted in the SoCog team explore the field of social cognition. Their scope is cognitive processes, either controlled or automatic, conscious or implicit, which are underlying in self-perception and the perception of others (stereotypes and prejudice), social interaction (automatic imitation, social comparison), and, more generally, social behavior in situation (threatening situations, positions of power, stigmatization, etc.) The research activity of SoCog focus on three lines of research:
Perception and social interaction
How do we perceive others and ourselves? Social perception is a central theme of research on social cognition. This social perception influences the way in which an individual evaluates others and behaves with them, whether the behavior consists in punishing, attacking, or, on the contrary, cooperating with, trusting, or even falling in love with, others. In this line of research, the focus is on the cognitive processes involved in the perception of oneself and others and in social interactions.
The research work especially considers the role of stereotypes (cognition) and prejudice (affects) in social perception. The research conducted examines how stereotypes are activated in social situations, and how they influence our memories, attitudes and behaviors. The research furthermore considers determiners of stereotypes and prejudice: how they originate and how they may be altered.
The research also considers the cognitive processes involved in social interactions. Our research examines in particular the way in which individuals compare themselves to one another and the consequences of such comparisons on the cognitive and emotional level. We are attempting in so doing to understand better the impact of social comparisons according to various standards (of success or beauty) and the nature, either controlled or automatic, of social comparison. We also study the way in which the influence of some factors on the relationship to others (social categorization, power effect, love relationship, etc.) may be apprehended through processes involved in the representation of the action of others (examined for example through automatic imitation, or the social Simon effect).
Threats and cognitions
What are the effects of threatening situations for the self? We are frequently confronted with threatening situations in everyday life, e.g. when we are afraid of failing to reach an important objective, when we are confronted with arguments which challenge our beliefs and values. Or also when we think of the terrorists threat or when we think of death. In this second line research the research focuses on how various types of threats, either symbolic or real, influence cognitive functions and social behavior.
We consider first the threats to the concept of self, whether this threat is connected to the fear of confirming the negative reputation associated with the group we belong to (the stereotype threat), or is connected to the pressure of evaluation (the fear to fail with reference to a standard). Our research focuses mainly on attentional processes, which mediatize the impact of threatening situations upon cognitive performance. And it also aims at putting forward new means to modify the interpretation that individuals form about threatening situations in order to hinder its effects on cognitive performance.
The other type of symbolic threat investigated is linked to the cognitive conflict: when individuals are confronted with information which questions what they thinks or believes, they negative affects which lead them to change attitudes and behaviors in order to put some sense back into their environment.
The research examines the cognitive and affective processes which convey these complex effects of psychological adaptation to the environment.
Finally the research considers how actual threats (the risk of a nuclear accident or of a terrorist attack) influence social cognition, affects and behaviors. This research help understand better how information referring to death influence the cognitive and affective reactions of individuals and their consequences in terms of behavior.
What are the unconscious determiners of our behaviors? Social behaviors are influenced by controlled cognitive processes (explicit cognition). There sometimes exists a dissociation between these processes. For example one may display definitely egalitarian social attitudes even if one cannot help activating certain stereotypes when in the presence of a member of a stigmatized group. In this line of research the focus is on the relationships between certain automatic cognitive biases and social behaviors. To achieve this we use implicit cognition measurements (sequential priming, implicit association test, automatic imitation, etc.) and physiological measurements (electroencephalography, EMG, etc.) to evaluate automatic cognitive reactions. These measurements help understand cognitive biases supposed to mirror implicit attitudes which escape the control, or even consciousness, of the individuals though playing an important role in social cognition. The research examines how these cognitive biases predict certain complex social behaviors such as affiliation with others, discrimination, or, in a more applied perspective, addiction or suicide. We study how such biases are created and how they can be modified.
Project leaders : Armand Chatard and Jean-Claude Croizet, Professors at the University of Poitiers – Poitiers campus.
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