Cognitive Social Psychology: The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition

By Gordon B. Moskowitz | Go to book overview

PREFACE

On January 8, 9, 10, and 11, Princeton University's psychology department welcomed the year 1998 with a conference that brought together a group of young researchers working in the area of social cognition. The idea for a conference struck me during the first Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SESP) meeting I attended. Although I had been surrounded by an incredible cohort of graduate students during my years at New York University, I was overwhelmed by the number of young researchers who had converged on Washington, DC, for that SESP meeting. My first thought, aside from getting a beer, was to contemplate getting this group that had been scattered across the globe together for a chance to meet as a cohort—both as a social occasion and as an opportunity to discuss where our research as a collective was heading (and forge collaborations with colleagues one might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet). With the financial backing of Princeton University, and the Langfeld fund within the psychology department, I was able to have such an event. Needless to say, without the support of my department at Princeton, this event would not have been able to occur, and each of us who participated is grateful to Princeton for having made this a possibility. Thus, little did my friend and colleague, John Darley, realize what he was initiating when he invited me to be his guest at that SESP meeting.

I decided to pattern the conference after two conferences that I experienced only through the edited volumes that emerged from them. One was held at the University of Colorado in 1957 and was entitled Contemporary Approaches to Cognition. During that meeting, the participants (Bruner, Brunswik, Festinger, Heider, Muenzinger, Osgood, and Rapaport) set for themselves the task of outlining a historical introduction to the topic of cognition, detailing each contributor's orientation and recent research, and looking to Fritz Heider to discuss future trends. As they stated, the symposium “undoubtedly reflects the Zeitgeist, but our major aim is to influence it.” The second was held at the University of Western-Ontario in 1978 and brought together researchers who had focused their interests on the cognitive processes involved in person perception and person memory. Borrowing from Heider (1944), they dubbed this thematic concern with the processing aspects of impression formation and social judgment Social Cognition (Volume I of the Ontario Symposium series). Throughout the 1980's such research began its transition from the cutting edges of the discipline to occupying the heart of social psychology. Its entrenchment in the middle of the road was perhaps most clearly marked by the impact of Fiske and Taylor's Social Cognition text and three edited volumes—Wyer and Srull's Handbook of Social Cognition, Sorrentino and Higgins' The Handbook of Motivation and Cognition, and Uleman and Bargh's Unintended Thought.

Throughout the 1990s a new crop of social cognition researchers, trained by the contributors to the volumes described earlier, have begun to exert their impact on the direction of the field. In the past 5 to 8 years, these young scientists have established labs of their own and conducted research that will help define the shape of social cognition for the future. However, this group has remained fairly isolated from one another despite working on issues and with methodologies that would greatly inform one another. Although their mentors have shared numerous opportunities to exchange ideas over the years, as of 1997 (when I was plotting the conference) this group had had little chance to gather as a unit and discuss their vision. But the opportunity, once made possible thanks to the Langfeld funds, then presented a problem. Who was I to invite to this conference given that 4 days allowed for a maximum of only 24 talks (at a grueling pace of 6 talks a day, 45–60 minutes each) and 24 participants?

This was a dilemma I did not take lightly because, like anyone, I certainly was ill-suited to select from among my peers a handful who could attend. To solve this problem, I attempted a rational approach. I decided that I would like an edited volume to emerge from the conference and that it should attempt to define social cognition somewhat broadly (to include not simply people who study accessibility effects in person perception, but anyone with an interest in the ways in which goals and cognitive processes interact in mediating social responses; e.g., attitudes, impressions, actions, etc.). I started by making a list of topics in social cognition that I would want covered in a comprehensive book. I then made a list of every nontenured faculty person doing social cognition research I could track down and summarized their research interests, with a special focus on where their interests were heading (by virtue of their most recent publications). I then matched people with topics—a process that occupied a chunk of my time while visiting at Tolman Hall in Berkeley in the spring of 1997. I then began a process of selecting people based on the goal of having a group that, as a collective strung together in the proper order, could produce a coherent volume on social cognition. This was, of course, still an imperfect solution, because for

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