A paper authored by University researchers and published in this month’s issue of the journal Cognition examines the relationship between social psychology and cognition.
“Although social psychology has been studying cognitive processing for about 50 years, there are still a lot of questions about the place of social cognition within the field,” said Joanna Korman GS, the lead author of the paper. “We want to know how information processing and perception of other people and of one’s own attitude actually relate to the broader goals of cognition research,” she added.
The paper attempts to explain how individuals use cognitive processes to infer the mental states of others and how social interactions impact processes such as language acquisition, attention, learning and memory.
Social cognition can be defined as “all the tools ‘in the head’ that enable people to understand other people and successfully interact with them,” Bertram Malle, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences and senior author of the paper, wrote in an email to The Herald.
“These tools include imitating others, teaching and learning from others, communicating in a rich representational language and coordinating joint action to achieve complex goals, such as crossing an ocean, building pyramids and developing laws and governments,” he added.
But how do humans manage to infer each others’ mental states? According to the paper, humans “are keenly sensitive to a vast and fast-moving stream of information,” including a “partner’s facial expressions, gestures, contact with objects, tone of voice, choice of words and so on.” The act of participating in complicated social interactions represents “one of the greatest achievements of human cognition,” the researchers found.
Though humans develop cognitive tools to communicate, the communication itself can also affect cognition. One example of its influence can be found within language acquisition, Korman said.
“If you’re a later-born child, you have greater conversational skills because you’re exposed to a greater amount of language. For instance, you might use personal pronouns earlier. So language acquisition is not a static thing — it’s very much a social thing,” she said.
Social processes can also affect memory and learning. “In the domain of memory, research shows that people are more likely to retain information if they discuss it with others,” according to the paper. “People better understand and retain information that they receive through direct communication rather than by overhearing it.”
Social cognition research can be helpful to society in many ways, Malle wrote. For example, when people make mistakes in guessing the emotions and thoughts of others, “the dark side of homo sapiens comes to light: misunderstandings and conflict, prejudice and discrimination, violence and suppression,” Malle wrote.
“In light of all that, it seems pretty important to conduct research to understand when and why such mental state inferences are accurate or inaccurate, socially constructive or destructive,” he wrote.
Qi Wang, professor of human development at Cornell University, said she believes there will be abundant future research on the influence of social networking on social cognition. “It would be very interesting to find out how the Internet changes the way we interact in our groups and our relationships. Technology that has recently emerged in our society is clearly changing the way we communicate,” she said.
The future of social cognition research may also include the application of computational models, robots and neuroscience, according to the paper.
Despite advances in the social cognition field, it is difficult to study human interactions because there are multiple uncontrolled variables. Another person’s appearance, voice and body language can all alter one’s responses, Korman said.
“This is why robotics may play a role in future research — with robots, you can control for these variables,” Korman added.“You can build a robot that has specific features and you can see which features turn on which social processes, and that’s a very powerful thing.”
Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper? Sometimes it seems like coming up with a good idea for a paper is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.
Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.
As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor. In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have had the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reaches. Other instances, such as in an abnormal psychology course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.
Focus on a Topic Within a Particular Branch of Psychology
The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.
One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior.
Other social psychology topics you might consider include:
Write About a Disorder or Type of Therapy
Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:
Choose a Topic Related to Human Cognition
Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:
Consider a Topic Related to Human Development
In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to early childhood such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Some other topics you might consider include:
Critique a Book or Academic Journal Article
One option is to consider writing a psychology critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
Professional and academic journals are also a great place to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find what that grabs your attention.
Analyze a Famous Experiment
There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:
Write a Paper About a Historical Figure
One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the history of psychology and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.
While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other eminent psychologists.
Write About a Specific Psychology Career
Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the field of psychology. This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most. In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and different employment options that are available.
Create a Case Study of an Individual or Group of People
One potentially interesting idea is to write a psychology case study of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography. Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as Piaget's stages of cognitive development or Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development. It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally. In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.
Conduct a Literature Review