Social Cognition in Bereavement Research

 

My deepened understanding of social cognition regarding conscious and unconscious processing, memory processes, attitudes, stereotypes, biases, and prejudice, as well as behavior change elements will all positively influence my future research in bereavement.  One of my future goals is to implement greater awareness and understanding of loss, grief, and bereavement on several different social levels, micro (personal) to macro (general public), including professional (medical and psychiatric).  Accomplishing this goal will hopefully become a vehicle towards social change in governmental and corporate policies relating to human resource issues, including time off for grieving, counseling for victims and their families, and supplemental resources such as support groups and/or medical services for those suffering from the loss of a loved one.

Applying concepts from social cognition is helpful in that there are many aspects of bereavement, from both the perspective of those who have lost a loved one and those who are interacting with someone who has lost a loved one.  Losing a loved one directly impacts an individual on all levels: physically, emotionally, and cognitively.  A greater understanding of conscious and unconscious processing, attitude formation, and cognitive processing will enable me to ascertain different potential challenges in educating others regarding issues of bereavement, and stereotypes relating to grief, bereavement, and death.  For instance, educating medical professionals and grief therapists regarding contemporary bereavement theories and treatments necessitates that the information is presented such that the individuals process the information systematically, rather than heuristically.  Although it is presumed that these individuals would be motivated to do so, if they have “time constraints, knowledge constraints, or the presence of simultaneous processing tasks” (Zuckerman & Chaiken, 1998, p. 625) they may unintentionally rely on heuristic processing.  Alternatively, the individuals may not be motivated, but rather, required to fulfill yearly educational units and be less inclined to fully engage with the information presented.  In either of these instances, it would be beneficial to induce systematic processing, which may be accomplished by manipulating participants’ perceptions of sufficiency threshold such that they process information more deeply than they would otherwise (Maheswaran & Chaiken, 1991)

Aiding victims of loss is of paramount importance; however, to date, there are no consistently successful counseling programs considered universally effective.  One potential reason for this is the tendency of people in general, of grieving persons specifically, to engage in simulation and counterfactual reality heuristics.  For individuals who have lost a loved one, especially unexpectedly, there is a natural tendency to envision or simulate alternative behaviors which may have prevented the unanticipated loss, and thusly creating counterfactual realities.  However, this type of mindful processing has been shown to amplify emotional reactions, alter conclusions regarding experiences, and increase attributions of blame to others (Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Moskowitz, 2005).  Further, understanding of this natural tendency among all individuals, not just the bereaved, encourages additional understanding and development of counseling methods directed towards addressing this type of rumination patterning which can be detrimental to the healing process.

Additionally, understanding of these concepts strengthens my skills as a social scientist in that I am more aware of possible unconscious bias, cognitive processing deficits, and the role of attention in memory processing.  Further, armed with these insights I can effectively overcome the challenges they present to research.

Social Cognition in Daily Life

The many concepts I have learned in this course has already strongly influenced my daily life.  For instance, understanding of conscious and unconscious processing, stereotypes, bias, and emotions has been discussed between my boss and I on a variety of occasions and how this information directly impacts legal cases utilizing current client cases for understanding principals learned.  Further, on a more personal level, understanding of gender role expectations, traditionally and contemporarily (Eagly, 2009) has informed my perspective as a mother resulting in cognitive awareness of gender stereotyping in our home and around my son.  Understanding the influence of emotions on decision-making through models such as affect infusion, which posits “affectively loaded information exerts an influence on and becomes incorporated into the judgment process, entering into the judge’s deliberations and eventually coloring the judgmental outcome” (Forgas, 1995, p. 39) and the depletion hypothesis which posits cognitive depletion results from engagement in mood repair resulting in deficient decision making (Bruyneel, DeWitte, Franses, & DeKimpe, 2009) have aided in creating a cautious and proactive awareness in forming judgments and decision-making within my personal and professional life.  Lastly, theories relating to goal attainment and/or behavioral outcomes such as theories of goal striving (Bargh, Gollwitzer, & Oettingen, 2010) and the not unrelated theories of reasoned action and theory of planned behavior (Anderson & Lavallee, 2008; Doll & Ajzen, 1992) provide positive indicators that self-efficacy, planning, and confidence are highly correlated to success in behavioral outcomes, which encourages and motivates me in my continued personal and professional pursuits armed with the knowledge that I will succeed in achieving my goals.

 

References

Anderson, A. G., & Lavallee, D. (2008). Applying the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior to athlete training adherence behavior. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57(2), 304-312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1464-0597.2007.00310.x

Bargh, J. A., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Oettingen, G. (2010). Motivation. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of social psychology (5th ed., pp. 268-316). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bruyneel, S. D., DeWitte, S., Franses, P. H., & DeKimpe, M. G. (2009).  I felt low and my purse feels light: Depleting mood regulation attempts affect risk decision making.  Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 22, 153-170.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/bdm

Doll, J., & Ajzen, I. (1992). Accessibility and stability of predictors in the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(5), 754-765. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.63.5.754

Eagly, A. H. (2009, November). The his and hers of prosocial behavior: An examination of the social psychology of gender. American Psychologist, 64(8), 644-658. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.64.8.644

Forgas, J. P. (1995). Mood and judgment: The Affect Infusion Model (AIM). Psychological Bulletin, 117(1), 39-66. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7870863

Kahneman, D., & Miller, D. T. (1986). Norm theory: Comparing reality to its alternatives. Psychological Review, 93(2), 136-153. Retrieved from http://www.bm.ust.hk/~mark551/readings/T4bR5_kahneman1986.pdf

Maheswaran, D., & Chaiken, S. (1991). Promoting systematic processing in low-motivation settings: effect of incongruent information on processing and judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(1), 13-25. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1890583

Moskowitz, G. B. (2005).  Social cognition: Understanding self and others.  New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Zuckerman, A., & Chaiken, S. (1998, October). A heuristic-systematic processing analysis of the effectiveness of product warning labels. Psychology & Marketing, 15(7), 621-642. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1520-6793(199810)15:7<621::AID-MAR2>3.3.CO;2-L

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