Social cognition is defined in social psychology as a set of processes aimed at coding, decoding, storing and processing information about people as members of society, about their activities and behavior, as well as the knowledge, formed as a result of this process.
Social cognition is also the name of the respective discipline within psychology that studies the cognitive grounds of social phenomena. The overall purpose of social psychology as a discipline is to study social phenomena considering «the role of cognitive processes (eg, attention, coding, organizing, and storing knowledge, memory, and so forth.) as intermediaries between social cognition and activities» [Lambert et al ., p. 306].
The theory of social cognition provides a window to a wide range of «behavioral» topics: from emotions, norms, stereotypes and prejudices that motivate human behavior, to model scenarios and communication strategies in different social situations. An important role has the study of processes and the mechanisms of organization of social information such as categorization, evaluation, distribution of attention, which are key to understanding how people interpret certain events in the life of society.
In the theory of social cognition cognitive processes and structures of social knowledge are mainly studied from the pointof view:
- how external social stimuli are associated with the relationship between groups of people and social structures are processed with the help of cognitive processes (see, for example, the works of J. Bruner and J. Allport about prejudice and stereotyping…);
- how social skills and abilities such as communication, playing, struggle for power, acceptance of a social role, learning, etc., are accumulated and developed throughout person’s life, especially during childhood (e.g. Vygotsky and Piaget’s writings on social psychology of T. Slama-Cazacu, H. Wellman, etc.).;
- what kind of relationship exist between the level of development of thought and intellect and certain cognitive mechanisms; for example, a correlation is established between the three types of intellect — physical, social and abstract (E. Thorndike), and methods of constructing the point of view (perspective) — such as the use of force, the use of power, persuasion, collaboration, synthesis of views [Selman 1981]
In recent years, the concept of social cognition has become more and more common in the works of cognitive linguists. This term, which indicates both the social cognition (i.e the process of assimilation of reality), and social knowledge (i.e the result of this process), is found in the works by T. van Dijk, T. Givon, D. Geeraerts, N. Boldyrev, V. Karasik and some other researchers. These works serve as the basis for the formation of sociocognitive linguistics (cognitive sociolinguistics), which is based on the cognitive methods of analyzing language material — from words to texts.
The effectiveness of the linguistic analysis of social cognition is due to the fact that, as shown by numerous studies (including the experimental ones), starting from an early age of any person, the language serves as a means of formation, consolidation and development of the social structures of knowledge both in the long term and currently . In particular, [Spelke 2003] shows the impact of the numeral acquisition in the native and foreign languages on the handling of the category of number. For instance, memorization of medium exact numbers by subordinate adult bilinguals is more dependent on the degree of language proficiency than memorization of small exact and large approximate numbers. A similar pattern was observed in children between 2 and 3.5 years in the performance of tasks with counting in the native language.
Consequently, the choice of certain linguistic expressions by the speaker indicates not only the most important structures of social knowledge in his long-term memory, but also the relevance of these structures for the current understanding of certain events and objects, including those having no direct relation to the social organization of the society.
Translated by Anna Mpanzu