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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Attitudes, Attributions and Social Cognition

Attitudes, Attributions and Social Cognition

People often try to influence others. Salespeople urge customers to buy goods or services; politicians exhort people to vote for them; dating partners try to make a good impression on each other; managers attempt to maintain employees’ dedication to work; and advertisers try to raise interest in consumer products. In all of these examples, people try to make others like or dislike particular objects, ideas, individuals, groups or tasks.Attitudes are tendencies to like or dislike something – such as an idea, person or behaviour – and the object of these tendencies (the thing beingliked or disliked) is often called the attitude object.Attitudes indirectly or directly affect behaviour in virtually every social interaction. This is why the study of attitudes and attitude change is a fundamental area of social psychological research.We will tackle each of these questions before turning to a related topic – attribution theory. In everydaylife, we try to make sense of events and the behaviour of other people. Why did I get so angry in the meeting yesterday? Why did Sally leave Harry? Why does Hannah’s baby have leukemia? Why did Manchester United fail to make the cup final this year? Attribution theory is the process of deriving causal explanations for events and behaviour – an important field of investigation in social psychology. The Austrian psychologist Fritz Heider (1958) saw this process as part of a commonsense or na├»ve psychology – a basic property of human thinking that fulfils a need to predict and control the environment.The final topic of this chapter binds the first two topics together. Attitudes and attributions summarize vast amounts of information from our complex social world. How do we process this information? And how do we use it to make judgements and draw inferences? These questions are central to the study of social cognition. Many of the concepts and experimental methods central to this field have been borrowed from work in
cognitive psychology. But, while cognitive psychologyconcerns itself with how we perceive physical stimuli and objects, social cognition focuses on the perception and processing of social objects, such as people, social groups and events. attitude object the thing (e.g. idea, person, behaviour) that is accorded a favourable or unfavourable attitude
attribution an individual’s belief about causality

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