Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Effects of Unconscious Context on Social Representations: Evidence from the Subliminal Emotional Priming Paradigm

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

The Effects of Unconscious Context on Social Representations: Evidence from the Subliminal Emotional Priming Paradigm

Article excerpt

Social Representations (SR) can be defined as spheres of beliefs, attitudes, and opinions. They are involved in the social construction of reality, and studying them allows a better understanding of common sense and, more specifically, position-taking and behaviors in a given situation. According to Moscovici (1981, p. 181), they are "a set of concepts, statements and explanations originating in daily life in the course of inter-individual communications." Thus they are "the equivalent, in our society, of the myths and belief systems in traditional societies; they might even be said to be the contemporary version of commonsense" (p. 181). As a consequence, SRs are dependent on the social context within which they are grasped. They are also involved in the definition of social identity for a given social group. From this perspective, studying SR is helpful in understanding intergroup conflicts and intra-group dynamics, since these are anchored in social roots.

In line with the social representation theory (SRT; Moscovici, 1961, 2008), and the central core theory (CCT; Abric, 1993, 2001; Rateau, Moliner, Guimelli & Abric, 2011), the hypothesis that the emotional unconscious context changes will differentially affect the elements of the SR function to their structural status (central vs. peripheral) can be tested. Indeed, according to CCT, central elements are defined as less sensitive to immediate context variations than peripheral ones. Thus, the objective of this study is to investigate the effects of emotional unconscious context on recognizing elements as being part of a social representation according to their central versus peripheral structural status.

Social psychologists who specialize in this area consider SR socially regulated by virtue of the social position of different groups. Moreover, SRT (Moscovici, 1981, 1984, 1988, 2008) defines SR as both a process (i.e., representing a given social object) and a product (i.e., the SR of a given social object). Since the seminal study by Moscovici (1961, 2008) on the SR of psychoanalysis in France during the 1950s, many approaches have been tried to study SR. Several categories (see Rateau, Moliner, Guimelli, & Abric, 2011, for a review) were often cited in the SR scientific literature, including the sociogenetic model (Moscovici, 2008; Jodelet, 1992), the structural model (Abric, 1993, 2001), and the sociodynamic model (see Clemence, 2001, for a review). Note that not all the objects are objects of social representations. They have to give rise to important issues, they must be polemical and arouse involvement. For examples these objects can concern "energy savings" (Souchet & Girandola, 2013), "Human Rights" (Doise, 2002), or "mental illness" (Jodelet, 1991).

The present study focuses on the structural model, otherwise known as the central core theory (CCT) of SR, which highlights the dichotomy between a very limited number of central elements versus a large number of peripheral elements (Abric, 1993, 2001; Flament, 1994; Guimelli, 1993a, 1993b, 1998; Moliner, 1995; Moloney, Hall, & Walker, 2005; Moloney & Walker, 2002; Rateau et al., 2011). In announcing the CCT, Abric (1976, 1987) stipulated that it has roots in Asch's formation of impressions theory (1946), according to which some criteria are decisive in our judgment toward a person.

Abric (1993, 2001) proposed that the central system is characterized by two essential functions: a meaning generative function and a meaning organizational function (Abric, 1993, 2001; Guimelli, 1993; Rateau et al., 2011). It generates the meaning for the SR as a whole, and it determines relationships between the elements composing the representational field. The peripheral system is the "bumper" of the central system as metaphorically described by Flament (1987, p. 146). It provides the central beliefs of the SR with concreteness, regulation, and protection. Hence, the components of the peripheral system allow the adaptive capacity of SRs by protecting the central system from external threats that could jeopardize its stability and coherence. …

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