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Social cognition
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Format: Journal Article
Publication Year: 2008
Pages: 2033 - 2039
Source ID: shanti-sources-72206
Abstract: Social cognition concerns the various psychological processes that enable individuals to take advantage of being part of a social group. Of major importance to social cognition are the various social signals that enable us to learn about the world. Such signals include facial expressions, such as fear and disgust, which warn us of danger, and eye gaze direction, which indicate where interesting things can be found. Such signals are particularly important in infant development. Social referencing, for example, refers to the phenomenon in which infants refer to their mothers' facial expressions to determine whether or not to approach a novel object. We can learn a great deal simply by observing others. Much of this signalling seems to happen automatically and unconsciously on the part of both the sender and the receiver. We can learn to fear a stimulus by observing the response of another, in the absence of awareness of that stimulus. By contrast, learning by instruction, rather than observation, does seem to depend upon awareness of the stimulus, since such learning does not generalize to situations where the stimulus is presented subliminally. Learning by instruction depends upon a meta-cognitive process through which both the sender and the receiver recognize that signals are intended to be signals. An example would be the ‘ostensive’ signals that indicate that what follows are intentional communications. Infants learn more from signals that they recognize to be instructive. I speculate that it is this ability to recognize and learn from instructions rather than mere observation which permitted that advanced ability to benefit from cultural learning that seems to be unique to the human race.