Social comparison activity is one of the most important spheres of human functioning; it is necessary for appraising where one stands within his or her community and for establishing viable routes for connecting with others. Social comparison is thus a critical psychological phenomenon essential to understanding both social behavior and formation of identity. To this end, individuals look to similar others to evaluate their own abilities and opinions, look to those better than themselves for inspiration and guidance, and evaluate others depending on similarities and distinctions with the self. In addition, they evaluate their own position in life with reference to other’s positions, look to others for information about social norms and for clues about how to behave, and experience feelings toward others based on implications of mutual differences for their relationship. This renders the nature of social comparisons complex; they take horizontal forms that focus on connections or distinction, as well as vertical forms that focus on superiority or inferiority. Moreover, they may be experienced through interaction, subjectively constructed in one’s mind, or deliberately orchestrated in order to impact others.
Complexities of social comparison activity are commensurate with multiple functions that they serve. First, people compare with others in order to gain self-knowledge and reduce uncertainty. Comparisons that fulfill this function typically occur with similar others, are biased toward comparing with those slightly better off, and are sensitive to diagnosticity that information about others carries for oneself. Second, people compare with others in order to self-enhance and protect well-being. Comparisons that fulfill this function often involve contrasting oneself from those worse off, although they can also involve perceiving similarities with superior others, especially when these are role models or close others. Third, people compare in order to self-improve, namely, boost their skills and abilities. Such comparisons typically occur with others that are better, yet similar in relevant attributes, and in domains that leave room for personal progress. Fourth and final, people compare in order to connect socially with others. Such comparisons occur through regular social interaction as individuals emphasize mutual similarities, through creation of comparisons to protect or embolden others, and through selection of social identities that maximize a sense of group belonging.
Categorization is a process whereby we make sense of the world around us by separating things into different classes or groups. When we learn which categories that objects belong to, we also learn about relationships between those objects. Social categorization involves applying that same process to people, including ourselves. It is not only a cognitive process for understanding and explaining the world, but it is part of the way we organize the world. That is, the groups we belong to such as genders, ethnicities, religions, and nations are based on social categories, and thus phenomena such as stereotyping and person perception rest on social categorization. The study of social categorization has drawn heavily on the study of object categorization and many of the core insights from that field are relevant, but there are also some important differences that suggest social categorization is more, indeed much more, than object categorization. The first key difference is that social categories, unlike object categories, are made up of people who can choose to unite or divide. Social categorization can help us not only to understand why other people are similar to each other and different from us but also to predict when they will be similar and different to us. The second key difference is that when we categorize ourselves, we learn who we can cooperate with, who shares our goals and interests, and who we might cooperate with. It is hard to imagine effective human functioning without the abilities that social categorization grants us.
Sanaz Talaifar and William Swann
Active and stored mental representations of the self include both global and specific qualities as well as conscious and nonconscious qualities. Semantic and episodic memory both contribute to a self that is not a unitary construct comprising only the individual as he or she is now, but also past and possible selves. Self-knowledge may overlap more or less with others’ views of the self. Furthermore, mental representations of the self vary whether they are positive or negative, important, certain, and stable. The origins of the self are also manifold and can be considered from developmental, biological, intrapsychic, and interpersonal perspectives. The self is connected to core motives (e.g., coherence, agency, and communion) and is manifested in the form of both personal identities and social identities. Finally, just as the self is a product of proximal and distal social forces, it is also an agent that actively shapes its environment.
Victoria M. Esses
Migration is the movement of people from one location to another, either within a country (internal migration between cities or regions) or between countries (international migration). Migration may be relatively voluntary (e.g., for employment opportunities) or involuntary (e.g., due to armed conflict, persecution, or natural disasters), and it may be temporary (e.g., migrant workers moving back and forth between source and receiving areas) or permanent (e.g., becoming a permanent resident in a new country). The term immigration refers specifically to international migration that is relatively permanent in nature. Immigrants are those individuals who have moved to a new country on a relatively permanent basis. Of importance, refugees are a particular type of immigrant, defined and protected by international law. They are individuals who have been formally recognized as having fled their country of residence because of a well-founded fear of persecution, armed conflict, violence, or war. Until they are recognized as such, these individuals are asylum seekers—individuals who have claimed refugee status and are waiting for that claim to be evaluated. Despite the relative permanence of immigration, advances in transportation and communication mean that immigrants are able to travel to, spend time in, and communicate on a regular basis with their country of origin. As a result, what has been termed transnationalism may result, with individuals holding strong ties with, and actively participating in, both the country of origin and the new receiving country.
Migration often results in two or more cultures coming into contact. This contact is especially likely for international migration where immigrants from one national group (the society of origin) come into contact with members of a different national group (the receiving society). Culture may include specific beliefs, attitudes, and customs, as well as values and behaviors. The term acculturation refers to the changes that may occur when individuals from different cultures come into contact, with possible changes in both immigrants and members of the receiving society. Psychological theory and research suggest that acculturation is bidimensional, with changes potentially taking place along two dimensions—one representing the maintenance or loss of the original culture and the other representing the adoption or rejection of the new culture. This bidimensionality is important because it suggests that acculturation is not linear from original culture to new culture, but instead that individuals may simultaneously participate in the new culture and maintain their original culture. The two cultures may be expressed at different times, in different contexts, or may merge to form cultural expressions that have aspects of both cultures. With voluntary and involuntary migration at historically high levels, understanding the drivers of migration and its consequences for migrants and those with whom they come into contact are essential for global cooperation and well-being.
Thekla Morgenroth and Michelle K. Ryan
Understanding gender and gender differences is a prevalent aim in many psychological subdisciplines. Social psychology has tended to employ a binary understanding of gender and has focused on understanding key gender stereotypes and their impact. While women are seen as warm and communal, men are seen as agentic and competent. These stereotypes are shaped by, and respond to, social contexts, and are both descriptive and prescriptive in nature. The most influential theories argue that these stereotypes develop in response to societal structures, including the roles women and men occupy in society, and status differences between the sexes. Importantly, research clearly demonstrates that these stereotypes have a myriad of effects on individuals’ cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors and contribute to sexism and gender inequality in a range of domains, from the workplace to romantic relationships.
The subfield of communication and intergroup relations attempts to disentangle the ways in which human message exchange is influenced by, and itself affects, relations between social groups. Typically, the social groups considered are large scale groups (e.g., national, religious, ethnic groups), but similar processes can also be applied to smaller groups such as families or work groups. Specifically, the field of communication and intergroup relations considers how social interaction is changed when the interlocutors belong to (or perceive themselves as belonging to) specific social groups, and how everyday talk about groups changes perceptions and attitudes concerning those groups. The subfield also considers how broader societal messages relate to group memberships. For instance, how do media messages reflect the macrosocial position of particular groups, and do media messages influence how consumers think about group memberships and intergroup relations? Underpinning all study of intergroup communication is the belief that intergroup relations are forged, perpetuated, and modified in real-life everyday social communication.
Skylar M. Brannon and Bertram Gawronski
The desire to maintain consistency between cognitions has been recognized by many psychologists as an important human motive. Research on this topic has been highly influential in a variety of areas of social cognition, including attitudes, person perception, prejudice and stereotyping, and self-evaluation. In his seminal work on cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger noted that inconsistencies between cognitions result in negative affect. Further, he argued that the motivation to maintain consistency is a basic motive that is intrinsically important. Subsequent theorists posed revisions to Festinger’s original theory, suggesting that consistency is only important to the extent that it allows one to maintain a desired self-view or to communicate traits to others. According to these theorists, the motivation to maintain consistency serves as a means toward a superordinate motive, not as an end in itself. Building on this argument, more recent perspectives suggest that consistency is important for the execution of context-appropriate action and the acquisition and validation of knowledge.
Several important lines of research grew out of the idea that cognitive consistency plays a central role in social information processing. One dominant line of research has aimed toward understanding how people deal with inconsistencies between their attitudes and their behaviors. Other research has investigated how individuals maintain their beliefs either by (1) avoiding exposure to contradictory information or (2) engaging in cognitive processes aimed toward reconciling an inconsistency after being exposed to contradictory information. Cognitive consistency perspectives have also been leveraged to understand (1) the conditions under which explicit and implicit evaluations correlate with one another, (2) when change in one type of evaluation corresponds with change in the other, and (3) the roles of distinct types of consistency principles underlying explicit and implicit evaluations.
Expanding on these works, newer lines of research have provided important revisions and extensions to early research on cognitive consistency, focusing on (1) the identification of inconsistency, (2) the elicitation of negative affect in response to inconsistency, and (3) behavioral responses aimed to restore inconsistency or mitigate the negative feelings arising from inconsistency. For example, some research has suggested that, instead of following the rules of formal logic, perceptions of (in)consistency are driven by “psycho-logic” in that individuals may perceive inconsistency when there is logical consistency, and vice versa. Further, reconciling conflicting research on the affective responses to inconsistency, recent work suggests that all inconsistencies first elicit negative affect, but immediate affective reactions may change in line with the hedonic experience of the event when an individual has time to make sense of the inconsistency. Finally, new frameworks have been proposed to unite a broad range of phenomena under one unifying umbrella, using the concept of cognitive consistency as a common denominator.
Jiaying Zhao and Brandon M. Tomm
Scarcity is the condition of having insufficient resources to cope with demands. This condition presents significant challenges to the human cognitive system. For example, having limited financial resources requires the meticulous calculation of expenses with respect to a budget. Likewise, having limited time requires the stringent management of schedules with respect to a deadline. As such, scarcity consumes cognitive resources such as attention, working memory, and executive control and elicits a range of systematic and even counter-productive cognitive and behavioral responses as a result. Specifically, scarcity induces an attentional focus on the problem at hand, which facilitates performance by enhancing cognitive processing of information relevant to the problem, increasing the efficiency of resource use, and stabilizing the perception of value. Such prioritization of the problem at hand may seem advantageous, but it can produce undesirable consequences. For example, scarcity causes myopic and impulsive behavior, prioritizing short-term gains over long-term gains. Ironically, scarcity can also result in a failure to notice beneficial information in the environment that alleviates the condition of scarcity. More detrimentally, scarcity directly impairs cognitive function, which can lead to suboptimal decisions and choices that exacerbate the condition of scarcity. Thus, scarcity means not only a shortage of physical resources (e.g., money or time) but also a deficit of cognitive resources (e.g., attention, executive control). The cognitive deficits under scarcity are particularly problematic because they impair performance and lead to counter-productive behaviors that deepen the cycle of scarcity. In addition, people under financial scarcity suffer from stigmas and stereotypes associated with poverty. These social perceptions of poverty further burden the mind by consuming cognitive resources, weakening performance in the poor. Understanding the cognitive and behavioral responses to scarcity provides new insights into why the poor remain poor, identifying the psychological causes of scarcity, and illuminating potential interventions to stop the cycle of scarcity. These insights have important implications for the design and the implementation of policies and services targeting the populations under scarcity.
Barbi Law, Phillip Post, and Penny McCullagh
Modeling and imagery are distinct but related psychological skills. However, despite sharing similar cognitive processes, they have traditionally been investigated separately. While modeling has shown similar psychological and physical performance benefits as imagery, it remains an understudied technique within applied sport psychology. Social cognitive and direct perception approaches remain often-used explanations for the effectiveness of modeling on skill acquisition; however, emergent neuropsychological explanations provide evidence to support these earlier theories and a link to the imagery literature.
With advances in technology and the development of applied frameworks, there is renewed interest in exploring modeling effects and how they parallel imagery use in applied settings. Specifically, modeling research has expanded beyond controlled laboratory settings to explore the effect of various theoretical models on motor performance and related cognitions within practice and competitive settings. The emergence of affordable video editing technology makes it easy for coaches and athletes to incorporate modeling into practice. The accessibility of video technology has sparked applied research on how various forms of modeling influence motor performance and cognitions, such as confidence and motivation. These applied investigations demonstrate the complementary nature of modeling and imagery in enhancing sport performance and skill acquisition, while highlighting the challenges in separating modeling and imagery effects. Both literatures offer possibilities for new methodological approaches and directions for studying these psychological skills in tandem as well as independently. Thus, there is much that imagery and modeling researchers can learn from each other in sport and other performance settings.
Group process refers to the behaviors of the members of small working groups (usually between three and twelve members) as they engage in decision-making and task performance. Group process includes the study of how group members’ characteristics interact with the behavior of group members to create effective or ineffective group performance. Relevant topics include the influences of group norms, group roles, group status, group identity, and group social interaction as they influence group task performance and decision-making, the development and change of groups over time, group task typologies, and decision-making schemes. Relevant group outcomes include group cohesion, process losses and process gains in performance, free riding, ineffective information sharing, difficulties in brainstorming, groupthink, and group polarization. Other variables that influence effective group process include group member diversity, task attractiveness, and task significance. A variety of techniques are used to improve group process.