The Cognitive Bases of Interpersonal Communication

By Dean E. Hewes | Go to book overview
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theories address questions of the attention paid to messages, the inferences drawn from them, and how those inferences are stored and retrieved (cf. Smith, chapter 3, this volume; Wyer & Gruenfeld, chapter 1, this volume).

PPM theory is unusual because it crosses the boundaries between the two kinds. It follows a message from its interpretation and through the cognitive system to message production. Although PPM theory is limited to the contexts in which it applies and the kinds of cognitive processes it describes, the general tactic of connecting inputs to outputs is crucial to developing truly social theories of cognition. One of the primary criteria by which one can judge a cognitive theory of human communication is by how much it helps us understand the flow of social interaction. Connecting message inputs to message outputs is a necessary, although not a sufficient, condition to meet this criterion.

Finally, within the boundaries to which it applies, the theory of PPMs sheds light on the appropriate metaphors to guide cognitive research. Fiske and Taylor ( 1991) typify modern cognitive social psychological research as moving away of a "cognitive miser" model of the social actor and toward a model of the "motivated tactician." The danger of this move is that the latter model often loses too much of the parsimony so characteristic of "miserly" explanations. What I have tried to do in PPM theory is to retain as much of the desirable simplicity of cognitive models which rely on cognitive capacity/efficiency for explanations, while recognizing the thoughtful, socially oriented tactician in all of us. In short, the explanatory power of "cognitive miser" model, like the limitations of cognitive capacity, must be balanced with the real contribution of thoughtful, goaldriven action.

Where does PPM theory go from here? Hopefully, the directions are clear. Much more needs to be known about the details of the cognitive operations captured by PPMs. What, if any, are the hierarchical relationships among the three principles that seems to guide PPMs: (a) obtain accurate information; (b) conserve cognitive effort; and (c) conserve social effort? Are there other strategies for managing capacity limitations that do not require tradeoffs among these three principles? What are the costs of the overuse or underuse of PPMs? How are multiple, contradictory cues pressed? These questions and others yet unasked point to a busy life for those who study PPMs. But the rewards for answering these questions are great if they make it possible to communicate more effectively in an ever more complex social world.


REFERENCES

Bartlett F. C. ( 1932). Remembering. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Berger C. R. ( 1979). Beyond initial interaction: Uncertainty, understanding, and the development of interpersonal relationships. In H. Giles & St. R. Clair (Eds.), Language and social psychology. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press.

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