The research conducted by the SoCog team members investigates the field of social cognition. The scope of our research interests encompasses controlled and automatic cognitive processes, explicit and implicit cognition underlying self-perception and the perception of others (stereotypes and prejudice), social interaction (automatic imitation, social comparison), and, more generally, contextualized social behavior (e.g., threatening situations, positions of power, situations of stigmatization, etc.). The team members focus on three lines of research:
Social perception and social interaction
How do we perceive others and ourselves? Social perception is a central theme of research in the field of social cognition. It influences the way in which individuals evaluate and interact with each other, whether their behavior consists in punishing, attacking, or, on the contrary, cooperating with, trusting, or even falling in love with others. In this line of research, we focus on the cognitive processes involved in self-perception, perception of others, and social interactions.
The relevant research considers, in particular, the role of stereotypes (cognition) and prejudice (affect) in social perception. The studies conducted in this line of research examine how stereotypes are activated in social situations, and how they influence our memories, attitudes and behaviors. We furthermore study the determinants of stereotypes and prejudice: what is their origin and how they can be altered.
We also study cognitive processes involved in social interactions. More particularly, we examine the way in which individuals compare themselves to one another, and the consequences of such comparisons on the cognitive and emotional level. In so doing, we aim to better understand the impact of social comparison to various standards of value (e.g., success, beauty) and the controlled or automatic nature of social comparison. In addition, we study the influence of certain relationship factors (social categories, position of power, romantic relationships, etc.) through processes involved in the representation of others’ actions (for example, automatic imitation or the social Simon effect).
Threat and cognition
What are the effects of threatening situations for the self? We are frequently confronted with threatening situations in everyday life. For instance, we are sometimes afraid of failing to reach an important goal, we can be confronted with arguments that challenge our beliefs and values, we are exposed to deadly terrorist news, etc. In a second line of research, we investigate how various types of threats, either symbolic or real, influence cognitive functions and social behavior.
Two types of symbolic threats are examined in this line of research. First, we investigate the threats to the self-concept, whether this threat is related to the fear of confirming a negative reputation associated with the ingroup (stereotype threat), or to evaluative pressure (fear of failing to reach a standard). Our research focuses mainly on attentional processes, which mediate the impact of threatening situations on cognitive performance. However, it also aims to put forward new means to modify individuals’ interpretation of threatening situations, in order to hinder threat effects on cognitive performance.
The second type of symbolic threat investigated in this line of research is related to cognitive conflict. When individuals are confronted with information challenging to their beliefs, they experience negative affect, which leads them to change their attitudes or behavior, in order to put some sense back into their environment. Our research examines the cognitive and affective processes that mediate these complex effects of psychological adaptation to the environment.
Finally, our research examines how existential threats (the risk of a nuclear accident or of a terrorist attack) influence social cognition, affect, and behavior. This research contributes to a better understanding of the way in which death-related stimuli influence individuals’ cognitive and affective reactions, as well their behavioral consequences.
What are the unconscious determinants of our behavior? Social behavior is influenced by controlled (explicit) and automatic (implicit) cognitive processes. Sometimes there is a dissociation between these processes. For example, we can harbor strongly egalitarian social attitudes, even if we cannot prevent the activation of certain stereotypes when we are in presence of a stigmatized group member. In this line of research, the focus is on the relations between certain automatic cognitive processes and social behavior.
To this aim, we use implicit cognition measures (sequential priming, implicit association test, automatic imitation, etc.) and physiological measurements (electroencephalography, EMG, etc.) to evaluate automatic cognitive reactions. These measures are useful to better understand automatic cognitive processes that escape control, or even consciousness, while playing an important role in social cognition. We investigate how automatic cognitive reactions predict certain complex social behaviors such as affiliation with others, discrimination, or, in a more applied perspective, addiction and suicide. We study how these automatic processes occur and how they can be modified.
Research team on Social Cognition
Team leader : Armand Chatard, Professor at the University of Poitiers – Poitiers campus.
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