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

By Gordon B. Moskowitz | Go to book overview

are bound to the particular relationships in which they are maintained, and to the degree that individuals have different clusters of personal experience, individual experience should vary to greater and lesser extent from relationship to relationship and situation to situation. For example, one's experience as an academic, shared and realized at school with students and colleagues, may operate relatively independently of one's experience as a member of the Sierra Club or PTA. Following the same logic, relationship motivation should also vary situationally as a function of the salience of relationship-relevant experiences.

A further implication of the relationship-specificity conjecture is that human cognition has the capacity to be quite plastic, at least to the degree that one's social world is complex and compartmentalized. Hence, shared reality theory suggests a mechanism well suited to the repeated demonstrations in the social-psychological literature of cognitive malleability. By the same token, however, shared reality theory also postulates a mechanism for cognitive stability. Just as cognitive malleability may be explained in terms of relationship structure and motivation, so might cognitive stability. Stable social institutions create stable interpersonal relationship dynamics, which, in turn, produce stable cognitions. In short, shared reality theory offers a single mechanism compatible with observations of both stability and malleability in human cognition.

The assumption that shared reality is relationship specific also implies that the proximal mode of self-categorization is interpersonal, although this does not in principle preclude self-categorization according to abstract group identities. However, shared reality theory's implication that social identification has psychological resonance because it is modulated by specific interpersonal relationships provides an empirically useful point of departure from self-categorization theory (cf. Turner, 1984; Turner et al., 1986).

Several other implications follow from shared reality theory, particularly as they involve relationship affirmation motives. For example, to the degree that shared reality binds social relationships, the motivation to achieve shared reality should be especially high under conditions of relationship threat or social anxiety. For example, not only do jilted partners in intimate relationships seek shared reality among friends, but it is not uncommon for them to attempt to get even former partners to understand their plight, sometimes even at the cost of personal dignity. However, to the degree that shared reality objectifies experience, motivation to achieve shared reality should be especially high under conditions of uncertainty. This may explain in part why graduate school classmates often become lifetime friends.

To the degree that shared realities are realized in the establishment and maintenance of social relationships, they will be defended because a threat to a given shared reality represents a threat to the relationship on which the shared reality is grounded. For example, the realization that a new acquaintance does not appreciate one's political view is not problematic for its inconsistency per se, but rather because it represents a tacit threat to the relationships in which the political view is shared. Hence, from the perspective of shared reality theory, the psychological conflict borne of both intra- and interpersonal attitude discrepancies is viewed in relational terms as relationship-specific conflicting shared realities.

When potential shared realities are incompatible, which one prevails? As implied by shared reality theory, the half-life of a given shared reality is positively related to the degree that it is grounded in multiple relationships and to the degree that the relationships on which it is grounded are stable, either through institutional imperatives or conditions in which relational motivation is high. For example, the relative permanence of family relationships makes them particularly potent social foundations of self-understanding, lending shared realities maintained in them more strength in the face of attack than a competing shared reality achieved, for example, with some guy once met at a party. Alternatively, asymmetrical relationship status may render one participant more motivated to affirm the relationship than another participant. In such cases, this corollary implies that movement necessary to achieve shared reality will occur more for the person more motivated to affirm or maintain the relationship.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT

This research was supported by NIH grant MH-10544 and a UCLA Academic Senate COR grant awarded to Curtis D. Hardin. Terri Conley was supported by a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. For helpful comments on a draft of this chapter, we thank Brian Lowery, Yesi Pena, and M. Park.

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