Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Situated social cognition

Today I read the short article by Eliot R. Smith and Gun R. Semin, Situated Scoial Cognition. (2007 Association for psychological science volume 16 issue 3)

In this article Smith and Semin challenge the view that knowledge in general and stereo types in particular are abstract and stable schemas. Instead they argue that cognition is social and situated hence the title. They emphasize the centrality of social context, the emotional states of the people involved, and communicative functions. I think they make a good argument for the situated and social nature of cognition by providing evidence from recent empirical work.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the text


Social cognition refers to the mental representations and processes that underlie social judgments and behavior—for example, the application of stereotypes to members of social groups. Theories of social cognition have generally assumed that mental representations are abstract and stable and that they are activated and applied by relatively automatic, context-independent processes. Recent evidence is inconsistent with these expectations, however. Social-cognitive processes have been shown to be adaptive to the perceiver's current social goals, communicative contexts, and bodily states. Although these findings can often be given ad hoc explanations within current conceptual frameworks, they invite a fuller integration with the broad intellectual movement emphasizing situated cognition. Such an approach has already been influential in many areas within psychology and beyond, and theories in the field of social cognition would benefit by taking advantage of its insights (p. 132)

"As the above examples show, recent research has amply documented the situation specificity and flexibility of many types of social-cognitive processes. Yet in many cases, context sensitivity has been regarded as a kind of noise, as an inessential distraction--even barrier--to the study of the hypothesized invariant representations considered by many researchers to be the most fundamental causes of social judgment and social behavior" (p. 134)

Here the authors are talking about social psychologists but I think their criticism equally applies to most second language acquisition researchers.

"First we urge theorists to avoid the language and metaphor of the "storage" and "retrieval" of representations, which imply that representations are static, inert "things," and to instead conceptualize representations as states that are constructed online in specific contexts" (p. 134)

I'm still not sure what I think of representations but overall I like this article.

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