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.


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.


Do you see what I see?

This week, I decided to write a blog that would serve as the introduction to my final topic. Over the next four weeks, I will be discussing early child development and social cognition. Understanding the social cognition of a toddler is important in order to study many other important social cognitive processes. It is important to know right off the bat, however, that social cognition doesn’t come out of nowhere. Just as a child learns how to walk, talk, speak, and call attention to themselves, a child must also learn how to do social cognition. This week’s blog on joint attention will serve as a welcome introduction, as social cognition does not develop without the crucial step of joint attention.

Joint Attention:

Image result for joint attention pictures

The cognitive development of an infant is one of the most fascinating subjects in all of social cognition. Infants are not born out of the womb being able to use cognitive processes and interact socially, so there must be a neural process that provides the stepping stones to what we are able to call early social cognition. The introduction to social cognition begins with the study of joint attention. Joint attention is the act of both the child and the parent’s coordinated attention on an object or motion. An example of this would be a parent and a child reading a storybook, and both the parent and the child running their fingers over the words and pictures together. During this process, both the infant and the parent are aware that the other is focused on “reading” the storybook. Other joint attention activities include These are just three examples of joint attention, but the important takeaway from this subject is that joint attention is an infant’s first interaction with social cognition. Joint attention is to social cognition what learning the alphabet is to being able to form words. (Carpenter, et al. 1998)

It is around the one year mark of development that the child begins to show an interest in activities pertaining to joint attention. Another indicator that they are at this level, as some children start earlier or later than one year old, is that children who are able to do joint attention are the same children who are able to direct an adult’s attention actively to objects by using intentionally communicative gestures- the ability to ask for a specific type of cereal or a specific colour of balloon, or an interest in a specific television show of their choosing. Part of participating in joint attention is the child not only following the parent’s finger with their own to show that they are following around, but frequently looking up and turning around to make sure that the parent’s and is still attached to their body. This action will confirm that the process of joint attention is taking place. From this point forth, the child enters the stages  of social cognition. (Akhtar & Gernsbacher, 2007)

How to produce joint attention in children with learning disabilities?

Problems with joint attention are common in children with learning delays, speech delays, children with autism, and children with Down Syndrome, and nonverbal children. These children have difficulties with making connections with parents and family members and get frustrated easily with the concept of learning, as it is so difficult that it provides a negative framing for learning. For all these children, nonverbal children especially, it is important to build joint attention with them in order for them to communicate minimally (whether that be verbally, using sign language, pointing to pictures of what they want when they want it, or even just understanding deliberate grunts and sharp movements when they want something).

The best advice for helping these children can be summarized by a series of steps:

  1. Get down onto their level.

As a person with experience volunteering and babysitting children with both Down-syndrome and severe autism, the most important thing for engaging in play or conversation with them is appealing to their interests. If all the child wants to do is stack blocks and colour, you sit down on the floor and stack blocks and colour.

2. Copy what the child is doing.

Engage in the activity with them and make sure the child can look up and see you having fun while you play with the object. This will allow the child to feel safer with the parent and to feel like they can learn about and talk about what they know and love without having any higher expectations placed upon them.

3.Reinforce proximity:

To begin the joint attention process, place the child in a comfortable position in between your legs. As the child plays, reach around, and mimic what they are doing. Just like the step previously. While you are doing this activity, laugh with joy so that the child knows that you love the activity just as much as they do. They will begin to look up and see where the laughter is coming from. This is a child with a learning disability’s first interaction with joint attention.

4. Gradually increase the amount of time the child is engaged.

6.At this step, the child will be at the same level of comfort with doing joint attention with you as any other child. They now possess the skill of joint attention, and will begin to show signs of early cognition. (Clark, 2015) 

To learn about building joint attention using eye-hand coordination instead of eye contact, please read this additional article.

Tune in next week for a blog on child development and social cognition.


Ahktar, N. & Gernsbacher, M.A. (2007) Joint Attention and Vocabulary Development: A       Critical Look. Lang Linguist Compass, 1(3), 197-207.

Carpenter, M. et al., (1998). Social Cognition, Joint Attention, and Communicative                 Competence from 9 to 15 Months of Age. Monographs of the Society for Research                             in Child Development, 63(4), 178. 

Chen, Y., Smith, L.B. (2013). Joint Attention without Gaze Following: Human Infants and     Their Parents Coordinate Visual Attention to Objects through Eye-Hand                                     Coordination. PLoS 1, 8(11) 79659.

Clark, C. (Producer)  (2015)  Speech, Language, & Kids) [Audio Podcast] Joint Attention: How   to Establish Joint Attention for Those Who are not Tuned In. Retrieved                                         from                         therapy-for-children-who-arent-tuned-in/

Fear and Fear Appeals



 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) 


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.


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)


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.

Image result for eu na vida gif


  • 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


  • 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.

Image result for thinking in a crowd gif


  • 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)


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)


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.


I am writing my blog post this week selfishly because I have been hearing the word heuristics thrown around in class, and I had only a vague idea of what a heuristic was. The purpose of this blog post is to help out other students in Social Cognition , who may have fallen asleep in Social Psychology the way I did. Heuristics are important concepts in social cognition because they contribute to a better understanding of automatic thought processing and implicit social cognition . By the end of this blog post, you will be able to identify what a heuristic is, and have the base knowledge of four different heuristics that influence your life and decision making without even knowing it.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that is taken when information is processed. Because of all of the stimulus that is absorbed on any given day, the brain has come up with some clever tools, or shortcuts, to alleviate the need to waste mental effort. We are neurologically hardwired to rely predominantly on heuristics when making choices. (Duff & Peace, 2013)

Although there are many heuristics that have been discovered, four of the most popular heuristics are discussed below:

  • Availability Heuristic: This heuristic is used to estimate the likelihood of an occurrence based on how easily one can remember an example of that occurrence. The availability heuristic is often used to protect ourselves. The availability heuristic was used after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Although airplane travel is far safer than travel by automobile, air travel declined all over the world after the tragic event and individuals chose to drive instead, which would put them in greater risk.

Once you learn about the availability heuristic, it is quite easy to manipulate someone’s cognitive processes to make them do what you want them to. If, for example, your friend was debating whether they wanted to party or not, and you didn’t want to, by reminding your friend of all the worst times they had while partying, the friend will be less likely to want to go out. (Duff & Peace, 2013)



  • Representativeness Heuristic: The representativeness heuristic (RH from now on) is used to judge whether a person or thing is a part of a certain category. This heuristic is problematic, because we can jump to conclusions of who a person is based on what categories we place them in. An example of the RH in action was done by Lonsdale & North, and centered on using a person’s musical taste as a complete judgement in character. In both studies they performed, there was overwhelming evidence that people had no problem making snap decisions about who someone was depending on the music they listen to. (Lonsdale & North, 2011)



  • Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic: The Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic (AAH) is a heuristic used for estimation. For the anchoring part, we state an answer that we know is wrong, but close. This is our anchor. From there, we guess lower or higher for the “actual answer”. The AAH is a bad heuristic to feed into because we completely throw our high functioning cognitive skills out the window in favour of a guess.

The AAH is taken advantage of by creators of shows such as Price is Right. On the show, the contestant is presented with an item and asked to guess the approximate value of it. Closest contestant to the true value wins that round. If we were to guess the approximate price of a boat on the show, we might know the approximate price of a house, and the approximate price of a car. The price of the boat would be somewhere in between this number, leaving much room for error. (Epley & Gilovich, 2006)

  • Framing Heuristic: Framing is a heuristic in which an individual will make different decisions depending on the way the situation presents itself. It is a tool most often used in advertising. When a situation is framed positively, we are more likely to buy into it than if it is framed negatively. If I’m on a diet, I want to read “sixty percent less sodium” not “still contains 30% of your daily intake of salt.” We make this heuristic to feel better about ourselves, or better about situations. When surgeons want to try an experimental surgery, they’re more likely to tell you “this surgery will provide a sixty percent chance in recovery” instead of saying “there is a forty percent chance that following through with this medical procedure could lead to your death.”(Rybash & Rubin,1989) (Cohen & Babey, 2012) 



How can you stop feeding into heuristics?

The only way to prevent heuristics and autonomic decision making is to cognitively intervene. When faced with a situation in which the past could influence your decision, a situation in which one aspect of an individual leads you to label them, a situation in which you estimate a value by first starting with a false but close guess, or a situation in which you are going to make a decision based on the framing of the situation, the answer is to take a step back and evaluate. What actually makes sense here? Is the man I’m talking to actually a dumb hick because he listens to country music? Probably not. Is the ice cream I’m picking up really healthy if it is labeled “frozen yogurt”? Probably not. Am I going to die if I choose to drive after I hear that my roommate has been in a car accident? Probably not. The biggest advice I can offer to eliminate erratic judgments and heuristics is to simply use your brain.


Cohen, D. A., & Babey, S. H. (2012). Contextual Influences on Eating Behaviors: Heuristic Processing and Dietary Choices. Obesity Reviews : An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity13(9), 766–779.

Duff, K.J. & Peace, K. (2013) THINK Psychology, First Canadain Edition. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Pearson Education Canada.

Epley, N. & Gilovich, T. (2006) The Anchoring and Adjusting Heuristic: Why the Adjustments Are Insignificant. Psychological Science, 17(4), 311-318.

Lonsdale, A.J. & North, A.C. (2011) Musical Taste and the Representativeness Heuristic. Psychology of Music, 40(2), 131-142.

Rybash, J.M. & Roodin, P.A. (1989) The Framing Heuristic Influences Judgements about Younger and Older Adults’ Decision to Refuse Medical Treatment. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 3 (2), 171-180.

Cross-Cultural Cognition:Contrast between Eastern and Western Mental Processes

Cross-Cultural Cognition: America versus China.

From the moment human infants are brought into the world, the stimulus that they are exposed to (sights, sounds, smells) are processed by their brain. As Piaget said, children are not brought into this world with a blank slate. They are brought into this world as their brain is in the process of development, and the first step in their cognitive development is to take the influx of stimulus and make sense of it. (Flavell ,1992) The environment in which the child is born into will influence how the child will build the walls of their cognitive infrastructure. One way to see the impact children can have when raised in different countries is to examine monozygotic twin studies, in which twins are separately adopted, and raised from birth. From the conclusion of many of these studies, we know that when these twins reunite later in life, they will be completely different from each other. (Little & Lopez, 1997)

The United States and China are much different places to grow up in. China presents a primarily collectivist society, in which children are reared to put their family first. This mentality extends as they grow to putting the interests of society far before the needs of the individual. In the United States, children are raised in a capitalist’s paradise. The goal from birth is to stand out enough in society to get into the best schools, get the best jobs, and make the most money. As Markus says: In America, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, where as in China, the nail that stands out gets pounded down. (Markus, 1991) Because of these two entirely different cultures, it makes sense that the cognitive process of American and Chinese residents is entirely different. (Berry & Dasen, 1974)

Specific differences in American and Chinese cognition:

Because America is an individualistic culture, and China is a collectivist culture, it is no surprise that the cognition processes in western and eastern individuals is drastically different. The following studies show examples of the opposing cognitive processes.

  • In a study done by Mesuda & Nisbett (2001), cross-cultural cognition was observed in a study on change blindness. In this study, American and Asian test subjects sat before an animated underwater scene. After watching the animation once, and then twice, the test subjects were asked to describe to the experimenter what happened. American participants were drawn to the brightest, fastest, most colourful animations and said things like “The big trout in the center swam left and disappeared.” Asian participants looked at the animation more holistically. After only two views of the animation, the Asian participants began talking about the background contexts of the animation. The Asian participants showed 60 percent more details about the context than American participants. They were able to see more subtle changes in the animation, along with the obvious focal changes.
  • When sorting objects, Americans are more likely to sort according to type. (a cow is similar to: A horse, a sheep, a pig, a chicken.) All these animals are grouped into farm animal types of animals. When sorting objects, Asians are more likely to list items that had some relationship to the original word provided. (A cow is similar to: pasture, farm, barn, hills, etc. ) All these items focus on the cow’s relationship with its environment.

Differences in American and Chinese neuroanatomy that explain the differences in cognition styles:

  • Cultural differences in eye fixation for complex visual stimuli:
    • The change blindness study above explained that the difference between American Cognition, and Asian cognition is that Americans were primarily focused on interesting focal points, whereas Asians were more focused on context clues of the environment.
    • Eye-tracking software was used to gather information on where the eye look when it looks at an image, and how much time the eyes spend looking in a specific spot.
    • American eye movements focused for longer periods of time on focal points: The animal, some of the more interesting background information.
    • Asian eye movements were quicker, and instead of looking at one focal point, they spent less time looking in one particular spot, and instead shifted their gaze to multiple points in the background of the stimulus and spent even less time glancing at the main focal point of the picture. They looked at this last. (Park, 2010)
  • Structural differences in brains between cultures:
    • The neural structure of Asian individuals shows more growth and grey matter density in four spots across the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, and temporal lobe. The growth is mainly in language centers, as well as information processing centers. The reason for increased brain activity in these areas is because of the difference in the cognitive work that goes into language acquisition for a Chinese language. Cognitive strategy differences are based off of Chinese people having to have more of a complex view on language and communication than American people. (Park, 2010)

Bi-cultural Cognition

*For the purposes of not turning this blog post into a novel, I will make this brief. Although I have to say. Researching bi-cultural cognition was the coolest part of this particular foray into social cognition.*

  • Bi-cultural cognition involves an individual comfortably ingrained in two different cultures. A good example of an individual who may fall into this category is and Asian American citizen, perhaps the child of a Chinese immigrant.
  • Bi-cultural cognition involves frame-switching. Frame switching is a cognitive process that occurs in all humans where we act differently when entrenched in different  social settings. (The way a teenager may act in the presence of friends is different from the way a teenager may act in the presence of a parent).
  • When a bi-cultural individual frame-switches from one culture to another, for example coming home from school to eat dinner with family, the way the individual would respond to the same questions is different.
  • When asked about selfesteem levels, Asian American students will rate themselves with a higher self-esteem when speaking in contexts of school, but a lower self -esteem when speaking in contexts of home. (Ross, Xun  & Wilson, 2002)
  • In experiments of priming and visual stimulus (Hong, Chiu & Kung, 1997), as well as experiments proving that language was a powerful motivator for frame-switching and different cognition patterns, what both experiments have in common is that once exposed to a cultural stimulus (stereotypical cultured images, or that culture’s language), the way they think is altered.
  • After getting primed by either visual stimulus or language, bi-cultured Asians in the presence of Asian stimuli will show more collective cognitive thought patterns, while when in the presence of American stimuli and language, the cognitive patterns prove to be more unique and individualistic. (Ross, Xun & Wilson, 2002)


Berry, J.W. & Dasen, P.R., (1974) Culture and Cognition: Readings in Cross-Cultural Psychology. Methuen’s Manuals of Modern Psychology, London, England. Methuen & Co.

Flavell, J.H., (1992). Cognitive Development: Past, Present, and Future. Developmental Psychology, 28(6), 998-1005.

Hong, Y.-Y., & Chiu, C.-Y. (2001). Toward a paradigm shift: From cross-cultural differences in social cognition to social-cognitive mediation of cultural differences. Social Cognition, 19, 181–196

Kesebir, S., Uttal, D. & Gardner, W. (2010). Socialization: Insights from social cognition. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 93-106.

Little, T.D. & Lopez, D.F., (1997). Regularities in the Development of Children’s Causality Beliefs about School Performance across Six Sociocultural Contexts. Developmental Psychology, 33(1), 165-175.

Markus, H.R., (1991). Culture and the Self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224-253.

Masuda T, Nisbett RE. (2006). Culture and change blindness. Cognitive Science, 30(2), 381–399.

Park, D. C., & Huang, C.-M. (2010). Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science : A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science5(4), 391–400.

Ross, M., Xun, W. Q. E., & Wilson, A. E. (2002). Language and the bicultural self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 1040–1050.