What I Learned In Social Cognition 3330

Part of what I learned in Social Cognition 3330 is that students can flourish when they are thrusted outside of lectures and exams. You learn a lot about the material you research and read, but you also learn that there is a better way to learn in the education system. Learning should be natural, but we have moved away from this practice in the education system. That is just one of the many things I learn this semester.

This semester in Social Cognition 3330 I learned that there are cognitive reasons why humans interact the way that they do. I learned about cognitive processes in developmentally normal individuals, as well as individuals who have developmental abnormalities. For example, I learned that there are executive functions such as the inhibitory control, attentional control, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. In someone who has no impairments in these regions their social interactions can still cover a range of reactions. The one example that stands out in my mind is the Stanford Prison Experiment. Those individuals were developmentally normal college students, but their reactions to being either a guard or a prisoner were shocking. In regards to those with developmental abnormalities, I learned about individuals who have autism or schizophrenia. Many of my classmates discusses these topics so I was able to learn a lot about the social and cognitive impairments that occur for these individuals. For example, I learned more about the social impairments associated with those on the autism spectrum, such as an impairment to their theory of mind. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia also have impairments in their theory of mind. My classmates had a wide range of topics for their presentations, so I was always able to find something I was interested in and was inspired to research these topics myself as well.

For my own blogs, I was able to approach topics that I have always been interested in but never had the chance to research before. But I was also able to continue my research on anxiety. I am constantly looking for opportunities to explore anxiety, as I find that learning about this mental illness helps me understand the two anxiety disorders I experience. I plan to continue my research on anxiety for as long as I can, because there will always be something new to learn. In regards to anxiety I learned that there are multiple cognitive functions that are impaired due to hormone levels, or in the case of the amygdala, physical structure differences. I learned that the increased size of the amygdala is due to an overactive perception of threat, and that individuals with anxiety perceive social threats as well. These perceived threats are not obvious to non-anxious individuals because they are not focused on the same things as someone with anxiety is. This has to do with the impairment in the theory of mind.

I also learned that individuals with anxiety have a hard time focusing on one thing because there is an impairment in the attentional control function. This also has to do with cognitive flexibility. Individuals with anxiety can switch from task to task, but this results in poor efficiency, productivity, and success of each task. I think one of the most interesting things I learned about anxiety and cognitive functions was about the impairment in the inhibitory control function. I personally knew about the feeling of overstimulation, but I had no idea that it was something that happens to most individuals with anxiety. This is due to not being able to ignore environmental cues because the brain is always on high alert for any threats. In my research about the inhibitory control function I also learned about the lack of self control, emotional control, and control over unwanted or intrusive thoughts. Jesse made a great point about changing one’s perception though. Once you recognize what is happening, you can change your perspective and limit the amount of perceived threats in the environment. This is exactly why I research anxiety.

Overall, I had a blast in this class full of wonderful people. I learned so many interesting things that I know I will hold onto for a very long time. Thank you for a wonderful class everyone!


Synthesis: Anxiety and Social Cognition

I have been passionately researching every aspect of anxiety disorders than I can for the past two years. My goal with my research is always the same; to learn and understand everything I can about anxiety. Anxiety disorders can cause a multitude of obstacles in one’s life, including daily struggles. I believe that research can help anyone suffering from a mental illness because when an individual is informed, they know what to expect, and what is going on. In regards to anxiety, knowledge and understanding, in my opinion, can lead to experiencing less anxiety, more control over one’s anxiety, and overall less social stigma.

Anxiety disorders can affect many aspects of an individual’s life, and this includes their social interactions and executive functions. For these individuals, high levels of anxiety are continuously present, and cause impairments in these aspects of their lives. The executive functions that are impaired in those who have anxiety disorders are theory of mind, attentional control, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, cognitive inhibition, and working memory.

An impairment in theory of mind for an individual with high levels of anxiety results in altered social experiences. Anxious individuals rate their social success lower than individuals who do not have anxiety (Hirsch, Meynen, & Clark, 2004). There is the belief that their social interactions are poor, often because there is also a lack of confidence. They also believe that individuals perceive them negatively, or that their anxiety symptoms are obvious to others (Mansell & Clark, 1999). This of course is incorrect, and others rate their social interactions similarly to how they rate their interactions with non-anxious individuals (Leary, Kowalski, & Campbell, 1988; Pozo et al., 1991). The distortion in the thoughts of those with anxiety disorders, which can negatively effect their social interactions.

Many of these executive functions are linked together, and the impairments are intertwined. For example, attentional control involves inhibitory control, cognitive inhibition, and cognitive flexibility (Bishop, 2009; Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). An impairment in attentional control results in a lack of focus during goal directed behaviour, and inhibitory control and cognitive inhibition are involved in the process of that allows an individual to focus on a specific task (Bishop, 2009; Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). When there is an impairment in the inhibitory control and cognitive inhibition, the individual cannot ignore external environmental stimuli. Cognitive flexibility is a part of attentional control because when this function is impaired, the individual is unable to successfully switch between tasks. Their focus in not centred, therefore resulting in poor performance on all tasks that are being juggled. Thus, these executive functions, and the impairments that are present in those who have anxiety disorders, are interrelated in every sense.

Working memory is another executive function that is impaired for individuals with anxiety disorders. This is also another function that is related to attentional control. I did not discuss this in Social Cognition 3330 because I have previously written a blog on this topic. Essentially, when an individual has high levels of anxiety their mind is clouded and crowded. This impairs their ability to store information in long-term memory, as well as their ability to recall that information (Baddeley, 1992). This also results in an inability to fully obtain the information because their working memory is overloaded with perceived threats and irrelevant anxious thoughts (Baddeley, 1992; Just & Carpenter, 1992).

Overall, there is a competition for resources when an individual has an anxiety disorder. Executive functions are fighting for resources to successfully perform their specific functions, but they are unable to receive the resources that they need. Trait anxiety leads to a greater amount of perceived environmental threats to goals. The brain is demanding resources to attend to these threats, therefore reducing the available resources for the executive functions. This effects an individual’s social success because the amount of perceived threats can hinder their social functioning. Furthermore, impairments in executive functions, for example an impairment in theory of mind, can cause the individual to act atypically in social settings. Though individuals with anxiety experience these cognitive impairments, their lives are not inhibited overall. These individuals may not exhibit the exact same behaviour in specific situations when compared to their peers, but they are obviously able to fully function in society. Anxiety is a difficult mental illness to manage, as it involves in multiple cognitive function abnormalities, but it could be said that it is just another unique way of experiencing life.

Baddeley, A. (1992). Working memory. Science255(5044), 556-559.

Bishop, S. J. (2009). Trait anxiety and impoverished prefrontal control of attention. Nature neuroscience12(1), 92-98.

Derakshan, N., & Eysenck, M. W. (2009). Anxiety, processing efficiency, and cognitive performance: New developments from attentional control theory. European Psychologist14(2), 168-176.

Hirsch, C., Meynen, T., & Clark, D. (2004). Negative self‐imagery in social anxiety contaminates social interactions. Memory12(4), 496-506.

Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1992). A capacity theory of comprehension: individual differences in working memory. Psychological review99(1), 122.

Leary, M. R., Kowalski, R. M., & Campbell, C. D. (1988). Self-presentational concerns and social anxiety: The role of generalized impression expectancies. Journal of Research in Personality22(3), 308-321.

Mansell, W., & Clark, D. M. (1999). How do I appear to others? Social anxiety and processing of the observable self. Behaviour research and therapy37(5), 419-434.

Pozo, C., Carver, C. S., Weflens, A. R., & Scheier, M. F. (1991). Social anxiety and social perception: Construing others’ reactions to the self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin17(4), 355-362.

Attentional Control and Anxiety

The executive functions are all very closely related, and this is why they can seem to do similar things. Last week I discussed how high levels of anxiety impair the inhibitory control executive function. An executive function that reacts similarly when impaired by high levels of anxiety, is the attentional control function. These two executive functions are connected in relation to anxiety because there is a lack of control for anxious individuals when it comes to paying attention to goal-directed tasks (Bishop, 2009; Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). For the inhibitory control, the impairment results in the inability to ignore irrelevant environment stimuli or task-irrelevant thoughts (Bishop, 2009; Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). In regards to attentional control, an impairment means poor performance on tasks due to the inability to stay focused (Bishop, 2009; Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). When an individual is unable to ignore task-irrelevant thoughts or stimuli, then the amount of resources they have for goal-directed behaviour is limited (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). Thus, inhibition is a part of attentional control, and high levels of anxiety result in adverse effects on processing efficiency (Bishop, 2009; Eysenck et al., 2007).

Anxiety disorders cause individuals to attend to threats that are not truly threats (Bishop, 2009; Bar-Haim et al., 2007). So, when an individual is completing a task, if a threat is detected, they must attend to this threat and decide how to respond. This is poor processing efficiency in action, which leads to poor performance quality in the end (Eysenck et al., 2007). This impairment in performance has been found to be most significant when the task is quite complex, and attentionally demanding (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). Though, this inability to stay focused, and impairment in efficiency and performance, is said to be present even when there are no perceived threats in their current environment (Bar-Haim et al., 2007; Bishop, 2009).

This is where cognitive flexibility comes in, which also referred to as shifting. Shifting, in individuals without anxiety, refers to the ability to harness attentional control in order to remain focused on relevant environmental stimuli and goal related tasks (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). Individuals with anxiety disorders are unable to harness attentional control, due to the fact that their attentional control is impaired in the first place, and there is already a difficulty in paying attention to the task at hand. In addition to this, an impairment in the shifting function results in inefficient task-switching (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). Switching from task to task results in poor performance on tasks due to the high demand that is required of the shifting function during task-switching. Research has demonstrated this and found that low-anxious individuals were not effected by task-switching, but highly-anxious individuals were effected, and therefore preformed substantially worse (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009).

Both inhibition and shifting are a part of attentional control, and they are both impaired in individuals who have anxiety disorders (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009). Anxiety results in increased levels of threat detection, which has adverse effects on these functions (Bar-Haim et al., 2007). Thus, anxiety impairs the overall processing efficiency of attentional control through a lack of efficiency in inhibition and shifting functions (Derakshan & Eysenck, 2009).

Bar-Haim, Y., Lamy, D., Pergamin, L., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & Van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (2007). Threat-related attentional bias in anxious and nonanxious individuals: a meta-analytic study. Psychological bulletin133(1), 1.

Bishop, S. J. (2009). Trait anxiety and impoverished prefrontal control of attention. Nature neuroscience12(1), 92-98.

Derakshan, N., & Eysenck, M. W. (2009). Anxiety, processing efficiency, and cognitive performance: New developments from attentional control theory. European Psychologist14(2), 168-176.

Eysenck, M. W., Derakshan, N., Santos, R., & Calvo, M. G. (2007). Anxiety and cognitive performance: attentional control theory. Emotion7(2), 336.

Inhibitory Control and Anxiety

Anxiety is associated with impairments in different executive functions. One of these impaired functions is their inhibitory control, also known as response inhibition. The inhibitory function controls one’s attention, behaviours, emotions, and thoughts (Diamond, 2013). This is the part of the brain that chooses the appropriate reaction to an outside event, and stops an individual from choosing an impulsive inappropriate reaction (Diamond, 2013). Thus, this function has a lot to do with self-control. In fact, individuals with high levels of anxiety have shown low levels of self-control (Bertrams, Englert, & Dickhäuser, 2010). This means they are impulsive, and have less control over their emotions (Eisenberg et al., 2005). High levels of anxiety combined with low levels of self-control can result in low levels of extroversion as well (Derryberry, 2002). When an individual has high levels social-control though, they will have excellent interpersonal skills and more success in school (Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004). Therefore, this cognitive impairment can result in a smaller number of close friends, as well as poor grades, and social exclusion (Tangney, Baumeister, & Boone, 2004).

Inhibitory control is also related to the ability to supress one’s natural response to attend to specific noises or distractions in their environment (Diamond, 2013). For example, if an individual is at a large gathering they want to ignore the voices of everyone else around them, in order to fully attend to the individual they are talking to (Diamond, 2013). When there is an impairment in the inhibitory control function, this leads to a malfunction in their selective attention abilities (Basten, Stelzel, & Fiebach, 2011). Individual with high levels of anxiety can often feel over stimulated because they are unable to ignore the excess stimuli in their environment. In fact, individuals with anxiety will notice loud noises or bright flashes in their environment more than the average individual. This occurs because they have a heightened alert system that is malfunctioning, therefore giving them no choice but to attend to these distractions (Basten, Stelzel, & Fiebach, 2011).

Finally, inhibitory control is also related to the ability to control one’s own thoughts (Diamond, 2013). Individuals with high levels of anxiety often report an inability to control unwanted and intrusive thoughts (Friedman & Miyake, 2004). This includes both the ability to supress these thoughts, as well as the frequency of these thoughts is increased for these individuals (Friedman & Miyake, 2004).

Overall, an impairment in the inhibitory control causes quite a few disturbances for those with anxiety. This executive function is also closely related to attention control and working memory, which I will be discussing in my blog next week. These specific issues can be hard to overcome, but Diamond (2013) says that time is one thing that can help individuals with anxiety. Personally, I find being aware of what’s going on, and the reason behind why my brain is making me do or feel these things, really helps counterbalance it all.

Basten, U., Stelzel, C., & Fiebach, C. J. (2011). Trait anxiety modulates the neural efficiency of inhibitory control. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience23(10), 3132-3145.

Bertrams, A., Englert, C., & Dickhäuser, O. (2010). Self-control strength in the relation between trait test anxiety and state anxiety. Journal of Research in Personality44(6), 738-741.

Derryberry, D. (2002). Attention and voluntary self-control. Self and Identity1(2), 105-111.

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual review of psychology64, 135-168.

Eisenberg, N., Sadovsky, A., Spinrad, T. L., Fabes, R. A., Losoya, S. H., Valiente, C., … & Shepard, S. A. (2005). The relations of problem behavior status to children’s negative emotionality, effortful control, and impulsivity: concurrent relations and prediction of change. Developmental psychology41(1), 193.

Friedman, N. P., & Miyake, A. (2004). The relations among inhibition and interference control functions: a latent-variable analysis. Journal of experimental psychology: General133(1), 101.

Tangney, J. P., Baumeister, R. F., & Boone, A. L. (2004). High self‐control predicts good adjustment, less pathology, better grades, and interpersonal success. Journal of personality72(2), 271-324.

Anxiety Disorders and Social Cognition

The topic that I have chosen for my topic blogs is anxiety and its relationship to our cognition and social lives. I plan to explore how anxiety disrupts multiple executive functions, and how these disruptions effect anxious individuals socially. One thing you should note while reading my blogs is that I am referring to clinical anxiety, as in, those diagnosed with anxiety disorders. “Non-anxious individuals” are those who have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Finally, when I do not specify a specific anxiety disorder I am referring to Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

As most people know, anxiety disorders are characterized by an over arousal of the fear response. Fear responses can be provoked by different things such as a specific fear to clowns, cotton balls, cars, etc. Some anxiety disorders are characterized by a fear of more general things such as performing a simple task in front of people, or going out into social environments and meeting new people (Lie & Lowe, 2016). In these instances, there is an irregularity in specific brain functions/regions, which in turn, causes an irrational fear response (Lie & Lowe, 2016). For individuals with anxiety this can cause daily struggles and negative experiences that an individual without anxiety may not experience.

In some cases, having an anxiety disorder can elevate an already present fear response. For example, individuals who do not have an anxiety disorder may feel fear or anxiety when giving a speech, meeting a new person, or doing something embarrassing in front of their friends. An individual with an anxiety disorder though, would feel an elevated level of anxiety, and this is when intrusive and distorted thoughts begin to pour in (Lie & Lowe, 2016). Anxiety disorders lead individuals into thinking, and believing, misleading information about their social environment (Clark & McManus, 2002; Lie & Lowe, 2016). This information is used to interpret the judgements that their peers have, and the assumption that is usually made is that the judgements are negative (Clark & McManus, 2002). Multiple studies have found that individuals with anxiety disorders will rate their personality, skills, and appearance, lower than the research interviewer would. These individuals also believe that the interviewer would rate their first impression of them quite poorly, even after a pleasant interview (Hirsch, Meynen, & Clark, 2004; Leary, Kowalski, & Campbell, 1988; Pozo, Carver, Welflens, Scheier, 1991). In fact, even the length of the interview did not change this result. Which means that even after having more time to become comfortable and casual with the interviewer, the individuals with anxiety disorders did not open up to the interviewer, or rate themselves any higher (Leary, Kowalski, & Campbell, 1988).

In situations where individuals with anxiety disorders perceive a threat, they often imagine that their anxiety symptoms are obvious to others, which enhances the anxiety; especially if they have social anxiety (Lie & Lowe, 2016; Mansell & Clark, 1999). It has also been shown that in addition to overestimating how anxious and inadequate other perceive them, they underestimate how proficient others perceive them as (Mansell & Clark, 1999). This belief that others perceive them in such a negative light may be due to the negative self-schemas these individuals hold about themselves (Breck & Smith, 1983).

When threats are perceived so frequently in one’s life, they tend to develop safely behaviours that can assist them in either escaping, or handling, anxious situations (Gilbert, 2000). In one study, researchers separated anxious individuals into two groups asked one group to hold a positive self image, and the other a negative self image while being interviewed. The group who held the negative image reported using more self soothing and safety behaviours (Hirsch, Meynen, & Clark, 2004). The negative image group also rated how they came across to the interviewer as lower than the positive image group rated themselves.

These studies demonstrate how harmful a specific state of mind can be in social interactions. An individual with an anxiety disorder may hold this state of mind constantly, and therefore would suffer socially in many ways.

Breck, B. E., & Smith, S. H. (1983). Selective recall of self-descriptive traits by sociall

Clark, D. M., & McManus, F. (2002). Information processing in social phobia. Biological psychiatry51(1), 92-100.

Gilbert, P. (2000). The relationship of shame, social anxiety and depression: The role of the evaluation of social rank. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy7(3), 174-189.

Hirsch, C., Meynen, T., & Clark, D. (2004). Negative self‐imagery in social anxiety contaminates social interactions. Memory12(4), 496-506.

Leary, M. R., Kowalski, R. M., & Campbell, C. D. (1988). Self-presentational concerns and social anxiety: The role of generalized impression expectancies. Journal of Research in Personality22(3), 308-321.

Liu, L., & Lowe, P. A. (2016). Examination of the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale–Version 2 and the Brief Fear of Negative Evaluation Scale–Straightforward Items Factor Structure in a Sample of US College Students. Canadian journal of school psychology31(2), 122-138.

Mansell, W., & Clark, D. M. (1999). How do I appear to others? Social anxiety and processing of the observable self. Behaviour research and therapy37(5), 419-434.

Pozo, C., Carver, C. S., Weflens, A. R., & Scheier, M. F. (1991). Social anxiety and social perception: Construing others’ reactions to the self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin17(4), 355-362.

Leadership: The Good and The Bad

Being a leader can be a difficult task. Leaders require certain cognitive functions, as well as excellent interpersonal skills, in order to be a successful leader. The purpose of a leader is to direct his or her group to a specific goal. In order to do this successfully, he or she needs to utilize specific cognitive functions that control their behaviour, as well as the behaviour of others. In order to be a good leader, one has to be able to accurately assess themselves, as well as group members (Lord & Emrich, 2001). This assessment occurs within the group’s social system, and includes analyzing task performance, as well as member’s personal abilities and effort (Lord & Emrich, 2001). As one would expect, researchers have found that when groups perform poorly, or express limited effort, leaders report more negative comments than positive, and they also suggest punishment (Lord & Emrich, 2001). Leaders guide their followers to a common goal through cognitive and emotional approaches (Turner & Muller, 2005). This includes, guiding and constraining choices, as well as emotional motivation and developing faith in the group that pushes followers to work hard. Certain qualities a leader would have includes self-confidence, problem-solving abilities, good communication skills, negotiating abilities, ambition, and honesty (Turner & Muller, 2005). Though, some researchers oppose some of these qualities, and instead, say that any individual can be a good leader under the right circumstances (Hogg, 2001).

There are different leadership styles that can help groups succeed, and others that help leaders succeed more than the group. A situation where the leader would benefit more than the followers, is with an authoritarian leadership, also called The Telling Style, or The Directing Style (Hershey & Blachard, 1969). This style consists of a clear division between the leader and the followers, and leaders have full control over the followers (Hershey & Blanchard, 1969). In social systems such as classrooms, this style of leadership fails, and will not result in successful students (a.k.a. followers) (Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939). A more democratic leadership style allows followers to flourish and made strides towards a common goal. This is called The Participating Style, which allows followers to have a more active role in the decision making processes (Hershey & Blanchard, 1969).

Even when leaders have good intentions, their actions can fail themselves and the group. Why does this happen when the leader’s only intention is to progress the group towards their common goal? One possible reason as to why this happens is because of emotional tagging. Emotional tagging involves attaching personal thoughts and experiences that are stored in one’s memories to specific situations (Campbell, Whitehead, & Finkelstein, 2009). This attachment tells leaders what behaviours to pay attention to, and what actions to perform in response. This process also includes pattern recognition. This means that when situations seem familiar, leaders make decisions based on their own experience, and therefore exclude additional input from the group (Campbell, Whitehead, and Finkelstein, 2009). These processes can result in poor decisions even when the leader only wants what is best for the group.

Leaders are required for many aspects of one’s life, from work, to school projects, to parenting, etc. The individuals require specific cognitive abilities, as well as interpersonal skills. In these situations, leaders need to take different leadership styles in order to succeed, but sometimes even with the best of intentions they can fail.

Campbell, A., Whitehead, J., & Finkelstein, S. (2009). Why good leaders make bad decisions. Harvard business review87(2), 60-66.

Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1969). Life cycle theory of leadership. Training & Development Journal

Hogg, M. A. (2001). A social identity theory of leadership. Personality and social psychology review5(3), 184-200.

Turner, J. R., & Müller, R. (2005). The project manager’s leadership style as a success factor on projects: A literature review. Project Management Institute.

Lewin, K., Lippitt, R., & White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created “social climates”. The Journal of social psychology10(2), 269-299.

Lord, R. G., & Emrich, C. G. (2001). Thinking outside the box by looking inside the box: Extending the cognitive revolution in leadership research. The Leadership Quarterly11(4), 551-579.

Never Trust An Atom – They Make Up Everything

Everybody lies, but when it become pathological, that’s when it becomes a problem. People lie for many different reasons, but studies done with those who lie pathologically have shown that they have very different motives than the average liar. For example, a pathological liar uses deception to get ahead in life; they manipulate others with their lies in order to gain power (Grover, 1980; Hample, 1980; Spence, 2004). One study found that pathological liars are more satisfied with their lies than they are with themselves (Hample, 1980). Hample (1980) also says that these lies occur when rewards are grand and assured.

Lies are also told when there are social conflicts (Grover, 1993). For example, the time allotted to a nurse for a task might not be sufficient enough, so he may falsify vital signs of a patient in order to finish on time. In this case performance pressure is the cause for the deception (Grover, 1993). If the nurse is constantly under performance pressure, then he will need to constantly lie, or face social conflict. Frequent lying can actually make deception easier over time (Hample, 1980; Verschuere, Spruyt, Meijer, & Otgaar, 2011), so social conflict combined with this fact, may be the reason why individuals keep up their lies for so long.

Pathological lying may be due to a lack of self control (Beaver, Wright, & DeLisi, 2007; Spence, 2004; Verschuere, Spruty, Meijer, & Otgaar, 2011). This executive function influences many factors of one’s life, including the choice to deceive others, or tell the truth. Spence (2004) suggests that pathological lying occurs because these individuals have poor emotional and behavioural control, as well as poor information management.

Though liars may have poor functioning in these areas, there are other cognitive areas that have perfect functioning that assist them in their lying schemes. The liar is able to analyze other’s responses, as well as their own, quite well, and they have the ability to understand other’s beliefs as well (Spence 2004; Poletti, Borelli, & Bonuccelli, 2007). This allows the liar to manipulate their victims quite easily. In fact, studies have found that telling the truth is the default cognitive process, and lying requires extra cognitive activity and processes (Spence, 2004; Spence et al, 2004). Thus, liars have to engage in ‘higher’ cognitive processes involved with intention and purpose to be able to lie efficiently (Spence et al., 2004).

The impact of lying seems quite obvious to most people, but as I mentioned previously, pathological liars deceive others to gain power or rewards that they deem greater than social exclusion. Some consequences of lying in social interactions include mistrust from others, broken relationships, loss of employment and negative physical interactions, such as fights, if caught in a lie (Meltzer, 2003).

Pathological lying is more complex than most may think. It involves poor functioning in a few executive functions such as behavioural and emotional control, as well as information management. Executive functions such as Theory of Mind and the ability to analyze the responses of other’s, and themselves, very accurately are also involved. Deception favours the one who is lying in most cases, and causes harm to the victim, but the liar also does not care in these situations because the rewards outweigh the costs for them. Overall, lying is something everyone experiences, and if you don’t think it’s happening to you, then it sounds like the liar is doing a pretty good job at manipulating you.

Spence, S. A., Hunter, M. D., Farrow, T. F., Green, R. D., Leung, D. H., Hughes, C. J., & Ganesan, V. (2004). A cognitive neurobiological account of deception: evidence from functional neuroimaging. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci359(1451), 1755-1762.

Meltzer, B. M. (2003). Lying: Deception in human affairs. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy23(6/7), 61-79.

Verschuere, B., Spruyt, A., Meijer, E. H., & Otgaar, H. (2011). The ease of lying. Consciousness and cognition20(3), 908-911.

Grover, S. L. (1993). Lying, deceit, and subterfuge: A model of dishonesty in the workplace. Organization science4(3), 478-495.

Spence, S. A. (2004). The deceptive brain. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine97(1), 6-9.

Beaver, K. M., Wright, J. P., & DeLisi, M. (2007). Self-control as an executive function: Reformulating Gottfredson and Hirschi’s parental socialization thesis. Criminal Justice and Behavior34(10), 1345-1361.

Poletti, M., Borelli, P., & Bonuccelli, U. (2011). The neuropsychological correlates of pathological lying: evidence from behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia. Journal of neurology258(11), 2009-2013.

Hample, D. (1980). Purposes and effects of lying. Southern Speech Communication Journal46(1), 33-47.





Do We Really Understand Other’s Intentions?

In an individual’s daily life there are many cognitive processes occurring that they are unaware of. One of those processes is the attributional process. Attribution is a cognitive process where humans infer the causes of different events and behaviours in their daily life (Kelley, 1967). Individuals can attribute causes to their own behaviour, as well as the observed behaviour of others. Specific meanings or intentions are attributed to behaviours based on the individual’s pre-existing biases, beliefs, and previous life experience (Kelley, 1967). The observed behaviour of others can be misleading though, so at times these inferences can be incorrect. Whether they are correct or incorrect in their observations, these inferences can effect their interactions with others in their daily life.

As previously mentioned, an individual’s pre-existing biases, beliefs, and life experience influence their attributional process. One example, that has been studied in multiple papers, is how an individual’s belief about the origin of homosexuality influences their attitude in reference to observed same-sex relationship behaviour. In cases where an individual believes that homosexuality is controllable (i.e. learned through the environment or individual choice), they display a negative affect toward homosexual individuals (Haider-Markel & Joslyn, 2008; Sakalli, 2002; Whitehead, 2014). Though, when an individual believes that homosexuality is uncontrollable (i.e. biologically or genetically influenced), then they would display a positive affect towards homosexual individuals (Haider-Markel & Joslyn, 2008; Sakalli, 2002; Whitehead, 2014). Two main factors that may influence the individual’s conclusion on the origin of homosexuality are religion and politics (Whitehead, 2014). Thus, their personal experience with certain religious and political beliefs have influenced what they perceive to be the cause of homosexual behaviour.

The attributional process always plays a large role in an individual’s education experience. For example, if a student receives a poor grade on an exam, they may dismiss their lack of study effort, and in turn, blame the teacher for not presenting the material adequately. Feeling flustered, they may also attribute their classmate’s excellent grade to pure luck, instead of recognizing that the classmate may have studied more than they did. This process is therefore, also linked to the self-serving bias because these conclusions blame external factors instead of taking responsibility for the poor grade. These are examples are explanatory attributions (Kelley, 1967; Gillham, 2001). Humans use these to help make sense of their surroundings, such as different events and social interactions. The conclusions that one derives from their surrounding is also influenced by having either an optimistic or pessimistic overall outlook (Gillham, 2001).  This means that two individuals can experience the same event, but depending on their overall outlook they would have differing opinions on the cause of the event.

Another form of attribution is interpersonal attribution (Zhang & Cao, 2006). This form of attribution occurs in situations such as telling a story to a group of individuals. When telling a story to a group of people, that individual recognizes that the other people in the group have their own personal beliefs, biases, and experiences. If they believe that the original story may offend someone in the group, they may be influenced the change the story in small ways to ensure group cohesion.

Finally, there are multiple theories as to why we attribute meaning to events and behaviours, but the one that I found most interesting was the Correspondent Inference Theory. This theory suggests that humans are motivated to attribute meaning to other’s actions based on what they believe that person’s intentions are (Jones & Harris, 1967; Kelley, 1967). For example, if an individual sees another person helping someone with a disability at a café, or cross the street, then they may believe that that person is selfless, kind, and generous, but behaviours can be misleading. The individual assisting the other person may be doing that as part of their job expectations. In that case then, they are being paid for their behaviour/actions so their intentions may be to get the job done and receive payment, instead of being selfless and helping that individual just because they want to.

As you can see, behaviour can be misleading, yet humans are still motivated to attribute intentions to the behaviours and events that they observe, and are a part of. Different factors such as religion and politics influence the attributional process, as well as personal beliefs, biases, and past experience. Overall, this cognitive process occurs constantly in our daily lives, and has a significant impact on our social interactions and relationships.

Haider-Markel, D. P., & Joslyn, M. R. (2008). Beliefs about the origins of homosexuality and support for gay rights an empirical test of attribution theory. Public Opinion Quarterly72(2), 291-310.

Whitehead, A. L. (2014). Politics, Religion, Attribution Theory, and Attitudes Toward Same‐Sex Unions. Social Science Quarterly95(3), 701-718.

Sakalli, N. (2002). Application of the attribution-value model of prejudice to homosexuality. The Journal of social psychology142(2), 264-271.

Kelley, H. H. (1967). Attribution theory in social psychology. In Nebraska symposium on motivation. University of Nebraska Press.

Gillham, J. E., Shatte, A. J., Reivich, K. J., & Seligman, M. E. (2001). Optimism, pessimism, and explanatory style. Optimism and pessimism: Implications for theory, research, and practice, 53-75.

Zhang, C. H., & Cao, H. A. (2005). Advances in Research on Interpersonal Attribution of College Students [J]. Northwest Medical Education3, 006.

Jones, E. E., & Harris, V. A. (1967). The attribution of attitudes. Journal of experimental social psychology3(1), 1-24.


Confirmation Bias, Male Drivers, and Xenophobia

Why are we biased? Why are others biased? And why does Brittany’s evidence, blog post, and opinion on turkey stuffing not effect my current belief that stuffing is pretty good*? Well, the confirmation bias sufficiently answers these questions. In addition to the confirmation bias, there are a few other cognitive processes that can explain why humans are, for the most part, a biased group of individuals.

A confirmation bias is when an individual favours information that confirms, or provides evidence for, their current beliefs or biases (Nickerson, 1998). For example, if an individual believes that males are far worse drivers than females, then every time they see an accident caused by a male, they use that information to confirm their previous belief. This individual would also choose to remember only the accidents caused by males, and would ignore, or discount, all of the accidents that they witnessed were caused by females (Nickerson, 1998). This individual would also have a bias in their motivation when seeking information about gender and car accidents. A confirmation bias leads individuals to only search for information only about one hypothesis, instead of considering both hypotheses simultaneously (Nickerson, 1998). This is called the Information-Processing Bias, or Hypothesis-Determined Information Seeking and Interpretation (Nickerson, 1998).

Once an individual has collected their biased information they begin to perceive a correlation where one does not actually exist. If there is a correlation though, even if the correlation is very slight, the individual will perceive it as higher than it actually is (Nickerson, 1998). This is called the Illusory Correlation. This occurs when an individual holds a certain belief or bias in their mind, and this causes them to find “evidence” where it does not actually exist.

You can see how this phenomenon is also related to stereotypes. People often hold beliefs and biases that are oversimplified, and often incorrect, about a particular group of people. Social interactions can suffer as a consequence. An individual may choose not to interact with groups or individuals who belong to specific stereotypes. A current real world example is Xenophobia. Xenophobia is defined in the dictionary as an intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. Confirmation bias is related to xenophobia because currently there a large misunderstanding, and misrepresentation, of individuals from specific countries. Great masses of people are blaming a religion for certain world events, based on limited and biased research. The actions of the few are also being attributed to entire groups of people. This is the illusory effect in full force. The end result is a mass exclusion of a specific group of people. This is just one real world example demonstrating how destructive a confirmation bias can be.

Nickerson (1998) believes that confirmation biases are caused by an inferential error in human reasoning. I believe that he is referring to inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning results in conclusions that are probable, but not definite. This means that people are walking around with beliefs that are incorrect because they lack proper evidence, but to them their beliefs are justified by their inductive reasoning. This is related to Belief Persistence, which theorizes that once a belief is formed it can be very resistant to chance (Nickerson, 1998). Even when the individual is presented with very compelling evidence that discounts their belief, it does not change their opinion on the matter. This answers the last question that I posed at the beginning of my blog. I continue to believe that stuffing is pretty good even when others tell me that it is just soggy, spiced bread that in the end comes out of a turkey or a box. I really cannot argue with that logic, but I will continue to enjoy this interesting side dish.

*If you don’t get this joke then you should definitely check out Brittany’s blog post from last week!

Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of general psychology, 2(2), 175-220.



The Reflected Appraisal Process

Most individuals interact with other people on a daily basis, and they are quite aware that these people have their own personal views and opinions of them. These opinions are formed through social interactions with the individuals themselves, or with other people who share information about the individual. Through these interactions they form judgments, and using these judgments, they construct personal beliefs of what kind of person that individual is in every aspect. Since most people are aware that others are judging them based on many factors, they imagine what possible judgements are being made, and this actually influences their own self-concept (Bouchey & Harter, 2005; Cooley, 1992; Ichiyama, 1993). This is called the reflected appraisal process.

An individual’s self-concept can be influenced by their understanding of how others perceive them (Cooley, 1992). This means that the individual’s social interactions play a key role in the development of their self-concept (Cooley, 1992). For example, if someone spills a drink, knocks over a chair, and runs into a door, all on a first date, this could effect heir self-concept in a negative manner. They may start to imagine that their date believes they are clumsy, or embarrassing to be around. This construction of what they believe someone else thinks of them, influences their self-concept. Based on their interpretation of the other person’s perception of them, they may now begin to believe that they are clumsy and embarrassing to be around, when it was probably just one bad day.

Humans pick up on the judgements that other’s have through signal reception. The sender, in this case the individual judging the other person on the date, sends out both conscious and subconscious signals (Frith & Frith, 2007). A conscious signal could be a sarcastic comment about the individual’s clumsy behaviour, but an subconscious signal could be slight body language movement expressing embarrassment. The correct reception of these signals depends on the receptor’s ability to take the other person’s point of view (Frith & Frith, 2007). The receiver must also be aware that others have their own beliefs and judgments about them, and that these beliefs and judgements are separate from the their own personal judgements. The receptor is monitoring how their own actions are being perceived by those around them. In this first date scenario, the receptor recognizes that their date is embarrassed and this information is going to effect their personal self-concept.

The self-concept may be stable at times, but there are also times in one’s life where it is constantly evolving due to new experiences and social interactions. One example of this is adolescence. During this age, reflected self-appraisals are influenced by teachers, parents, and peers. One study done by Bouchey and Harter (2005) looked at the influence of teachers and parents on the adolescent’s own self competence ratings in school. The study found that the teacher’s and parent’s own perceptions of the student’s competence predicted how the students rated their own competence in school. The researchers believe that the student’s perceptions of what their teachers and parents think of them, end up predicting their own self-concepts. This can then lead to an influence on their performance in school. This is an important finding because this is a sensitive time for most people, therefore, their support systems should be trying to positively influence them in any way possible.

Studies using fMRI scans have linked specific areas in the brain to the reflected appraisal process. Participants show greater neural activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, temporal-parietal junction, and posterior temporal sulcus regions when asked to do reflected self-appraisals. When asked to do direct self-appraisals the participants showed less neural activity in these regions (Pfeifer et al., 2009; Ochsner et al., 2005; van der Meer, Costafreeda, Aleman, & David, 2010). One study done by Ochsner et al. (2005) found that direct self-appraisals are associated with first-person perspective regions of the brain, but reflected self-appraisals are associated with regions involving emotion and memory. They conclude that different regions of the brain are recruited during different types of appraisals because distinct demands are being asked. So depending on whether someone is forming their self-concept based on direct appraisal versus reflected appraisal, separate processes are occurring in the brain.  

Each individual forms their own self-concept based on their own personal experience throughout their life. An individual’s self-concept can be influenced by their perception of how other’s perceive them. Based on social interactions, people send conscious and subconscious signals to receivers, and these signals carry information about how the sender perceives the receiver. There are also multiple brain regions involved in reflected self-appraisals, which demonstrate how complex this process is. The reflected appraisal process is something that all individuals experience, and it plays a central role in the development of the self-concept.


van der Meer, L., Costafreda, S., Aleman, A., & David, A. S. (2010). Self-reflection and the brain: a theoretical review and meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies with implications for schizophrenia. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews34(6), 935-946.

Ochsner, K. N., Beer, J. S., Robertson, E. R., Cooper, J. C., Gabrieli, J. D., Kihsltrom, J. F., & D’Esposito, M. (2005). The neural correlates of direct and reflected self-knowledge. Neuroimage28(4), 797-814.

Ichiyama, M. A. (1993). The reflected appraisal process in small-group interaction. Social Psychology Quarterly, 87-99.

Cooley, C. H. (1992). Human nature and the social order. Transaction Publishers.

Bouchey, H. A., & Harter, S. (2005). Reflected appraisals, academic self-perceptions, and math/science performance during early adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology97(4), 673.

Pfeifer, J. H., Masten, C. L., Borofsky, L. A., Dapretto, M., Fuligni, A. J., & Lieberman, M. D. (2009). Neural correlates of direct and reflected self‐appraisals in adolescents and adults: When social perspective‐taking informs self‐perception. Child development80(4), 1016-1038.

Frith, C. D., & Frith, U. (2007). Social cognition in humans. Current Biology17(16), R724-R732.