The Power of Social Cognition

By Morgan, Geoffrey P.; Joseph, Kenneth et al. | Journal of Social Structure, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Power of Social Cognition


Morgan, Geoffrey P., Joseph, Kenneth, Carley, Kathleen M., Journal of Social Structure


Introduction

Scholars define social cognition, broadly, as the way humans understand and process their interactions with others (Greenwald & Banaji 1995). This includes interpreting human interaction, drawing inferences from spoken and unspoken communication, and developing an understanding of group dynamics. Like any notion of cognition, social cognition can be studied at various levels of abstraction. At the neurological level, scholars have made inroads in understanding social cognition's biological origins (Frith & Frith 2008). One level "up" on the abstraction hierarchy, cognitive psychologists have developed models of how stereotypes are embedded within interpretable, but cognitively faithful, mental representations (e.g. Bem 1981, Brashears et al. 2013). Social psychologists have studied how human actions are a function of culturally shared affective meanings, represented as a parsimonious set of numerical values (Heise 2007), and the cognitive turn in sociology has wrought about similar sorts of empirical models of cognition and culture (Goldberg 2011; Lizardo 2014).

Recent work has begun integrating theory and data at multiple cognitive abstraction levels. For example, Schröder and Thagard (2013) integrate biological, cognitive and social psychological research into a unified model of how social behavior emerges from a neuropsychological theory of semantic pointers. A long-standing question, however, is how to integrate model based theories of cognition with model based theories of social structural dynamics (e.g. Carley 1991; Lizardo & Strand 2010). One reason why theorizing about this intersection is difficult is that methods to capture empirical data for theories linking social structure and cognition are difficult to collect and measure (Brashears 2013). An alternative approach is to link cognition and structure via theory implemented as computer simulation (e.g. Carley 1991), specifically agent-based models. As suggested by Schröder and Thagard (2013 pg. 275), "Multiagent models, simulating communication between multiple virtual agents in artificial societies ... might one day shed light on how stable, consensual structures of affective meaning are generated and maintained in cultures."

The present work focuses on an advancement of an existing, empirically validated agent-based model called Construct (Schreiber & Carley 2013) with an approach to social cognition that is significantly more faithful to cognition than prior iterations. Interestingly, this increase in faithfulness is achieved by more faithfully modeling limitations (rather than features) of human cognition. Within the agent-based modeling literature, the proposed approach is novel, but its goals are not (Bainbridge et al. 1994).

Socially realistic models tend to be lax in terms of the "cognitive" representation of socio-cognitive processes. Extant dynamic network socio-cultural models (e.g., Carley & Ren 2001) may have representations of alters in the "cognitions" of agents, and what those alters think or believe, but the informative mechanisms of social cognition are deterministically noisy perceptions of the simulation's ground-truth. This is not sufficient because it is not a good model of how we create or inform inferences of others. Humans can, and often do, draw and even act on inferences about what others think and know merely from their first glance at them, before they have even spoken their first word. Thus, agent-based models should be able to represent such a social cognitive mechanism, while still retaining the computational efficiencies of socially realistic, cognitivelypoor agent-based models.

This research addresses this gap in simulation technologies and social theory. on the proposed approach connects existing cognitive, social psychological abstractions of social cognition into an overarching model of dynamic social structure. While the model described lacks faithfulness to many conceptualizations of social cognition, it provides an efficient formalization to span these abstraction levels while retaining complexity. …

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