What is Social Cognition?

The cognitive skill that involves the self and relating to others

What is Social Cognition?

Social cognition is the way that people think about themselves and how they relate to others. The term came about during the “cognitive revolution”. Social psychologists Albert Bandura, Stanley Millgram, and Philip Zimbardo wanted to change the way people thought about how they behave and interact with the world. They focused on the intricacy of the interplay between the individual and the social world. Through their research, they discovered that social cognition is comprised of three key ingredients: mentalism, process orientation, and cross-fertilization.

The Three Key Ingredients of Social Cognition


Refers to schemas. Schemas refer to attitudes about different groups of people, physical properties of objects, and how someone perceives themself in society.

Process Orientation

Is the way that a stimulus (situations, people, attitudes, where someone lives) impacts a person and causes different behaviors. For example, a Canadian study shows people are happier in more rural areas than they are in cities.


Involves the way environmental, biological, and psychological factors are involved in social behavior. For example, a person who lives in a more violent neighborhood, that has a lack of resources, can grow up to be short-tempered. The trauma they experienced in childhood can cause them to develop aggressive responses to certain social situations.

How does all of this work together?

Social cognition is often studied for legal purposes. Psychologists, lawyers, and other professionals try to remove influences such as bias and racism from confounding to make a fair trial. They attempt to humanize and explain what could’ve been an influence on why a person did something. This helps a jury, judge, and medical professionals address key issues that could explain a person’s behavior.

Why does social cognition matter from a clinical perspective?

Clinical providers are always trying to deliver care in a way that patients can receive it. To be an effective clinician, a clinician must understand their client. By knowing and understanding a patient’s social cognitive processes, clinicians can help their clients receive and comply with their treatment so that they can get the most out of therapeutic hours.

How does apply social cognition apply to cognitive rehabilitation?

Cognitive rehabilitation success relies on understanding a patient’s goals, expectations, and their receptiveness to intervention. By asking questions about any reservations towards therapy, a provider can help the patient overcome obstacles that may prevent cognitive rehabilitation efforts. Social cognitive processes impact person-to-person interactions, thus they impact patient-therapist interactions. The better a clinician can understand their patient the better the care will be.

Source article: Penn, D. L., Sanna, L. J., & Roberts, D. L. (2008). Social cognition in schizophrenia: an overview. Schizophrenia bulletin34(3), 408-411.

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