Summary: The Final Frontier

The purpose of the past three (or four if you count joint attention) blogs was to look into the earliest forms of social cognition to analyze the beginnings of some of the most studied topics in social cognition. Developmental social cognition is a field that is ever-growing and ever-changing. One of my favourite part of doing the research for the three blogs was reading papers from the 80s and 90s all the way to reading papers that had been published only days earlier. The leaps and bounds that have been made, and all the hours that have been put into this topic make it a subject I could have successfully spoken about for the entire duration of this course.

Early social cognition, joint attention, self-awareness, and the earliest development of language demonstrate many branches of the same tree that is social cognition of child development. It would have been interesting to study memory, children raised in bilingual homes, the early cognition of learned behaviour, and the early cognition of implicit cognition. If I was taking this course for another eight weeks, I would be able to expand my horizons on the topic of the child development of social cognition and be able to contribute some well thought out discussions to the class on how all the things that are discussed in class start from childbirth.

My entire takeaway of this topic can be summed up by a few words from a book written by John H. Flavell and Lee Ross called Social Cognitive Development: Frontiers and Possible Futures. Flavell and Ross propose that the study of social cognitive development has two approaches from which it can be studied. The knowledge from this novel can be used to read and analyze other papers on social cognitive development and define which of the methods the researcher took to format their paper.

Chapter Seven of the novel is titled Exploring Children’s Cognition on Two Fronts. On the first front, there is a kind of approach to observing social cognition in which most of the experiments and results are taken from experiments carried out in a lab-like setting. Studies such as the first language acquisition test in the previous blog, as well as most of the analysis preformed in the early cognition blog all stand to use this methodology  of learning about developmental cognition. This form of analysis involves story telling, problem solving, interview questions, and other verbally administered tests. This approach to social cognition has become massively helpful when it comes to establishing age trends in social cognition development, and in children’s social understanding. Certain tests on self-awareness can be conducted in this way. Generally those following this approach have taken a stab at determining the major qualitative changes associated with age in children’s’ social understanding. (Flavell & Ross, 1981) Recall the experiment in which the researchers stuck an infant in a playpen with a mirror and a sticky note on their face. the researcher is trying to find the average age at which the infant is able to look at the reflection, touch the sticky note on their forehead, and realize that the baby touching the sticky note in the reflection and the child currently touching the sticky note are the same person.

The second kind of social cognitive study is radically different, and differs from traditional social cognitive lab research. This method of study focusses on cognition during actual social interaction, rather than subjects simply imagining real world examples of social cognition from the confines of a laboratory. This method is observational and more commonly naturalistic. From observations of children in natural or even semi-structured settings, the researcher draws inferences from the children’s social cognitive abilities without the exclusive aid of children’s’ responses to verbally administered tasks or to probing interview questions. Because of the age group I focussed on in my last three blogs (aged six months to eighteen months all the way to two years), the most efficient way to study social cognition was by these means. With the rise of “mommy and me” blogs popping up all over the internet, there is one thing upheld both by radical helicopter moms and developmental social cognition researchers: testing a child’s level of social cognition based on real life interaction with toys and games allows the child to have fun and the parent or doctor to track various abilities such as hand-eye coordination, joint attention, self-awareness, and even first language acquisition. (Flavell & Ross, 1981) Several experiments that I looked at  in the past four blogs have been based on this form of social cognitive study. From the joint attention experiment in which the child followed the parent’s finger while looking at the pages of a book, to the experiment of deferred imitation from the early social cognition blog in which an infant mimics a parent picking up an object and setting it down in a certain way, to the last experiment in this nature of prosodic processing in which (I realize now that I didn’t include this study. I will link it below) in which researchers realized that music carried certain aspects of prosody, and by listening to special kinds of music, it could actually lead first language acquisition to be developed quicker, and with fewer mistakes. (Thomson, Schellenberg & Hussain, 2004)

While the purpose of this particular blog post is to provide a summary to the four previous blogs I have written, look at this blog as more of a launch pad. By understanding the two methods of developmental social cognition research, one could take any subject in developmental social cognition and parse the articles up based on what kind of paper one might want to write about. If writing about a child from infancy to mid toddler age, the second method of out of lab research might be the best method of research to go by. If looking into developmental social cognition of a child aged late toddler to early child, to adolescent and so on, the first method of research (survey, verbal reporting and self report) might be a better method of study.

I hope that this summary was useful and informative, and that you might be able to take this information with you when reading studies in any other area of developmental social cognition.

References:

Flavell, J. H., Ross, L., & Social Science Research Council (U.S.). Committee on Social and Affective Development During Childhood. (1981). Social cognitive development: Frontiers and possible futures. Cambridge;New York;: Cambridge University Press.

Thompson, W. F., Schellenberg, E. G., & Husain, G. (2004). Decoding speech prosody: Do music lessons help? Emotion, 4(1)

 

 

 

Social Cognition: Last Remarks

If you are reading this, you’ve made it to the last blog post written for Psychology 3330 Social Cognition. This semester has been a wonderful and educational experience filled with colourful presentations, thoughtful and mesmerizing blog posts, and quizzical and constructive conversations in the comments section. The top three most important things this course has taught me are listed as follows:

1. Research is not a process that needs to take eighty four years. If you know what you are looking for, and you know what direction you would like to take a blog post, or a future essay perhaps, it is a good idea to plan the blog or essay out by academic sources, rather than ideas. Say you need four sources for a paper. Find a source that encompasses your topic as a whole. Maybe a meta analysis, maybe an educational article rather than an article with an experiment, maybe a long, well written lab report. The second step is to scroll to the bottom of this article to the references section. Click on a few of the references, and choose three more papers that can be used to supplement your paper and give it more bearing of truth. The more citations you use in your paper, the better it can be demonstrated that you thoroughly looked into the topic you are researching. The last step is to skim the articles found and use the information found as the skeleton of your essay or blog post. Then fill the rest of the paper in with original thoughts, a strong argument and position, a solution to the thesis you present, and a reference section with references that are cited properly.  I can dedicate this process to getting good grades in this course this semester all the way along.

2. This course had many strengths and a handful of weaknesses.  The strengths of this course were

A) the freedom to choose topics we were interested in

B) the use of presentations presented by our fellow students. We were able to teach each other certain topics that we were passionate about. That passion was contagious and it inspired intense and incredibly academic discussions following the presentation. The discussions were my favourite part of the course.

C) If you showed up and we’re willing to learn and teach, you did well in the course. Jesse was incredible with giving us every opportunity to make the most we could out of each class. How much or little effort you put into the class,discussions, and blogs showed through in the marks that were received every week.

3. As I mentioned, there were only a handful of weaknesses of this sort of course.  Two of these are:

A) because there was no attendance mark, class participants only had to show up when they were presenting to relieve credit. I think a better system would be that you have to show off to get more than an A- in a blog. Part of this course is learning how to learn. If people don’t show up to learn, what is the point of the class?

B) the sources in the blogs should have been limited to newspaper articles, academic peer review papers, and other academic sources of information. All the information on the blog shouldn’t be coming from a handful of YouTube videos, or content found on non academic websites. It really seems like a slap in the face to the students who actually researched and contributed original thoughts in response to the research.

All in all, however, I am so happy with everything this course was written on. I am so grateful to have come across a professor who recognizes that traditional absorb and regurgitate education doesn’t work. Jesse Martin’s expertise in the best learning styles helped inspire the blogs, talks, and comments we do every single (or every other) week. I am grateful to Jesse for introducing me to the subject of social cognition in such an interesting way. With luck, I will be able to partake in future courses that Jesse teaches, as I think traditional education is a long way from using Jesse’s methods to teach their classes.

 

Fear and Fear Appeals

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 In elementary school, we had three assemblies per year with a focus on fear appeals. The first one in September was the “Don’t Smoke” assembly. The second in January was the “Safety Online” assembly, and the third assembly was the “Bad Influences” assembly. The goal from these assemblies was to get children to sit down are absorb the terrifying information being hurled at them in hopes that what was said in the assembly was horrid enough to prevent the elementary students from harm. What was the purpose of these assemblies? Did they work?

What is fear?

For this blog post, fear will be defined purely by a neurobiological standpoint. All social definitions of fear are irrelevant for this blog. Researchers determined that the amygdala is the seat of emotions and emotional recognition in others. When the amygdala is damaged, the ability to react appropriately to fearful stimulus is altered and the ability to recognize fear on the face of others is permanently damaged as well. In rats, this leads to a short lifespan in nature, as without the sense of fear and danger, and the sense to notice that other rats are scared, they will get targeted and eaten by prey. (Adolphis, R., et al. 1995)

How Does Fear Alter Cognition?

This is most easily observable in children. In the famous Little Albert experiment, Albert, was at first not afraid of rats, in fact, he quite enjoyed playing with them. Albert was subjected to classical conditioning in which the researcher taught Albert to be afraid of rats by exposing him to a loud bang every single time a rat or white/grey furry animal was present. In the end, Albert had a pathological aversion to all rodents, and the learned fear altered his cognition and ability to live normally. His HPA axis was also abused, so his reactions to all other forms of fear, such as important evolutionary ones, were muted. Point blank: Fear alters cognition by overstimulating the HPA axis, and creating extraneous psychological trauma. The cognition of a permanently altered being would be a shell of their former selves.(Ruiter, R.A.C., 2004) (World Heritage Encyclopedia, 1958)

Fear Appeals:

Fear appeals are persuasive messages designed to terrify people by describing all the awful things that will happen to them if they do not subscribe to the behaviour that the message recommends. The fear appeal is extremely effective in marketing because as stated in the fear-as acquired- drive model, fear of emotional tension directly drives individuals to do what they can to alleviate the emotional distress. When a message induces fear, individuals may find that they adopt the intended behaviour to reduce or completely eliminate the discomfort of the fear. (Boss, S.R. 2015)

It should be noted that if the advertisement is too extra (too brutal, violent, sad, silly) the viewer will simply discard the appeal as being too unbelievable, and the desired behaviour will not occur. (Hastings, G., Stead, M. & Webb, J., 2004)

Three quick, fool proof ways to prevent the effect of fear appeals on your psyche:

  • Literally avert your eyes. Studies show that if you distract yourself while watching these advertisements (listen to music, keep 37 tabs on your laptop open and try to find which tab the music is coming from while you “watch” the ad), you will not be as affected by the message, and thus, won’t purchase the emotional safety net.
  • If the ad is not relevant to you. We cognitively distance ourselves from things we find either too garish, or a little too close to home. We use our confirmation bias to selectively filter out advertisements that we don’t agree with or that don’t apply to us. (ex: If you are watching a PSA to stop placing your laptop on your lap because it is decreasing your sperm count, and you don’t have the biological ability to produce sperm, you likely won’t be affected by the message. I am currently typing with the laptop on my lap and I am terrified, but too lazy to do anything about it. (Kesseles, L.T.E., et al., 2014)
  • Finally, let go of the guilt associated with these types of advertisements. No need to feel anxious and guilty if you’ve done all you can to ensure the health of your offspring’s lungs. If they choose to smoke in the future, it wasn’t because you failed as a parent and should have shown them one more “how it’s made” video on cigarettes. It’s because your child is experiencing peer pressure, and shouldn’t have skipped the assembly on bad influences.

To cut this blog short:

I would encourage you to look up examples of fear appeal campaigns that have worked, and those who haven’t. Come up with your own fear based attack to get someone to participate in a behaviour of your choice. And finally, look up more ways to prevent falling victim to fear appeals. I have attached links for further reading.

(Snipes, R.L.,  LaToure, M.S. & Bliss,S.J., 1999) 

References:

Adolphs, R., et al. (1995). Fear and the Human Amygdala, Journal of Neuroscience, 15(9) 5879-9591.

Boss, S.R. (2015). What Do System Users Have to Fear? Using Fear Appeals to Engender Threats and Fear That Motivate Protective Security Behaviours. MIS Quarterly, 39(4) 387.

Hastings, G., Stead, M. & Webb, J. (2004). Fear Appeals in Social Marketing:Strategic and Ethical Reasons for Concern. Psychology and Marketing, 21(11), 961-986.

Kesseles, et al. (2014). Neuroscience Evidence for Defensive Avoidance of Fear Appeals. International Journal of Psychology, 9(2) 80-88.

Ruiter, R.A.C. (2004). Danger and Fear in Response to Fear Appeals: The Role of Need for Cognition. ManhBasic and Applied Social Psychology, 26(1), 13.

Snipes, R.L., LaToure, M.S. & Bliss, S.J. (1999). A Model of the Affects of Self-Efficacy on the Perceived Ethicality and Performance of Fear Appeals in Advertising. Journal of Buisness Ethics, 19(3), 272-285.

World Heritage Encyclopedia. (1958). John B. Watson, Chicago, Illinois, World Heritage Encyclopedia.

Crowding: Cognitive Pathology in Humans and Animals

Coming from a large family, I can attest to the fact that trying to find your own space can be difficult. Even though it is learned from birth to share, when it comes down to living with family, children don’t usually want to. Living with a large family in a small house is difficult, but what would happen if someone placed 200 people into a house, barred the doors to prevent the people from escaping, and only left enough food and water to last seven people for a week? How would being trapped in the confines of a small house with not enough room to sleep, eat, or go to the bathroom change the 200 individual’s social cognition? The results seem something out of a bad horror movie.

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The study of population density and social pathology was heavily researched by ecologist John B Calhoun. He performed many controversial experiments on rats to see what would happen if he put too many rats in one habitat with not enough food, bedding, and females to go around. For the first few days the behavior was normal, but as the rats began to realize the food was in scarce supply, the cognition of the rats completely changed. The rats bred rapidly, and turned into what Calhoun called “rat city”. The unwanted social contact plus the amount of babies being born began to put cognitive stress on the rats and began to lead to aggression. The adrenal systems in the rats began mass producing adrenaline, and cortisol levels increased as well. The evolutionary fight or flight responses kicked in, but with nowhere to flee, fighting became the only option. The rats began to resort to cannibalism for food; picking off the weak, and eating all the pups. Some of the more aggressive mothers kept the remaining pups safe, fighting off other rats to ensure the survival of their offspring. As the numbers of females began to decrease, the males became hypersexual, polyamorous, and once the numbers of females began to dwindle, homosexual. (Calhoun, J.B. 1962) Because this behavior leads to basic extinction, save for the last few rats, Calhoun dubbed this phenomenon the “behavioural sink”, as the numbers in population declined like water down a drain. The last few rats remained withdrawn and traumatized as the numbers declined enough for the remaining rats to survive in the space. The remaining rats lived the rest of their short lives in a unified mass. When the traumatized rats were introduced to new colonies, they remained “socially autistic” and solitary until death. (Ramsden, E. 2009)

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Calhoun tried to extrapolate his research onto human populations, but he died before he had a chance to do anymore “controversial” studies on any other group of animals or humans. For humans, we cognitively feel crowded when the actual number of people we see in a location is more than the intended number of people expected to be there. If people are in a public venue such as a swimming pool or a locker room, and the number of people in the area exceeds the number of people they thought would be in the area, it greatly impacts out cognitive ability to have fun in relation to swimming pools, or feel safe in relation to change rooms. There are four cognitive tools humans use to feel safer in crowded venues:

  • Site succession: When visiting places for the first time, an individual gets an impression of the place they visited. Was it fun? Was it crowded? Was it dangerous? The next time they go back to this place, they will have only the first impression to go off of, so they will expect it to be the same. By using site succession, an individual can alter future visits to this location by cognitively realizing a location will never have the same atmosphere twice, so we won’t be nervous or stressed when he experience is inevitably different.

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  • Product Shift: change the label applied to the experience. If the individual goes back the second time with an open mind, and the idea that it could be more crowded than it was last time, it will set up the individual and prevent the shock and suffocation of too many unfamiliar faces they weren’t expecting to see.

girl game angry mad crowd

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  • Dissonance Reduction: A cognitive coping strategy that involves an individual to maintain a state of their cognitive consistency or balance. Recreationists cope with the negative impacts of crowding by a rationalization process that minimizes the dissonance caused by crowding, and increases the positive aspects of the experience. They may seek new, constant information to maintain their cognitive consistency, they may change their attitude, or they may change their situation to minimize the amount of dissonance experienced.

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  • Displacement: The displacement method of cognitively dealing with a potential anxiety inducing crowded area is to choose to alter their participation patterns. This means they may seek out less crowded areas in order for them to have a good time. They may actively avoid encounters with others, shift their activity to a less dense portion of the population, or shift locations entirely. (Kuentzel, W.F. & Heberlein, T.A. 1992)

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Regardless of these cognitive coping strategies, human beings do get placed in social situations in which they act exactly like the rats did in Calhoun’s experiment. Where are these terrible places? Prisons. Particularly privatized American prisons, which have more prisoners than space for prisoners. The violent, antisocial, and hypersexual qualities of the rats in Calhoun’s experiment can be extrapolated onto the broken psyche of prison inmates when placed in confinement with not enough room. IN the prisons that the book by Paul Paulus refers to, the group cells of three to nine people in them in which negative cognitive effects of crowding can result in erratic behavior which may even be out of character for inmates in prison for non-violent crimes. A better solution to the adverse cognitive thoughts crowding can have on behavior is to teach prisoners these tricks for ridding themselves of some emotional tension that may lead to scary, violent behavior. (Paulus, P. 1998)

References:

Calhoun JB. (1962). Population Density and Social Pathology. Sci Am 306:139-48.

Kuentzel, W.F. & Heberlein, T.A. (1992). Cognitive and Behavioural Adaptations to Perceived Crowding: A Panel Study of Coping and Displacement. Journal of Leisure Research, 24(4). 337.

Paulus P. (1988). Prison crowding: a psychological perspective. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. 8.

Ramsden, E. (2009). The urban animal: population density and social pathology in rodents and humans. Bull World Health Organ, 87(2) 1.