Social cognition evolves: Illustrations from our work on intergroup bias and on healthy adaptation

Susan T. Fiske, Shelley E. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


When we first wrote Social Cognition (1984), social psychology’s crisis critiqued methods, replicability, theory, and relevance. Social cognition research illustrates four phases of response to these challenges. First, the Cognitive Miser approach introduced methods less prone to experimenter or participant interference: looking time as attention, categorical memory for who said what. Next, the Motivated Tactician approach addressed replicability by identifying moderator variables, primarily goals and motivations. For example, interdependence (Fiske) and threat (Taylor) are prominent motivations in our respective research. The third wave, perceivers as Activated Actors, translated mental states to behavior, using theory-guided prediction. In intergroup bias, for example, Fiske’s Stereotype Content Model predicts patterns of discriminatory behavior distinctive to each combination of stereotypic warmth and competence. Going beyond reported behavior, distinctive activations emerged in brain-imaging and muscle responses. In health psychology, Taylor’s Positive Illusions theory predicts people cope with life-threatening illness by viewing the odds optimistically, the self positively, and possible control affirmatively. Again, the social cognitive processes interplay with psycho-physiology. Recently, social cognitive approaches have increasingly addressed inequality: health disparities, bias interventions, power dynamics, class effects, social morality, and intent inferences. Viewing perceivers as Inequality Enablers answers any remaining doubts about the field’s continuing relevance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-297
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Healthy adaptation
  • Intergroup bias
  • Social cognition


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