Inhibition, Aberdeen, and Other Cloudy Subjects
Ap Dijksterhuis Ad van Knippenberg University of Nijmegen
At some occasion not very long ago, it seemed to us as if the use of the term inhibition as an explanatory concept in social cognition came very close to an indecent proposal. We had observed in several experiments that the activation of a stereotype of a group somehow impaired the retrieval of earlier encoded counterstereotypical information about that group, compared to retrieval in a condition in which no stereotype was activated. A clear case of inhibition, we thought. Soon we found out that this term should not be used lightly, if at all.
Galen Bodenhausen and Neil Macrae have in their target chapter made an impressive effort to push back the borders of ignorance by giving inhibitory processes their rightful place in social psychological theory. They describe a variety of inhibitory processes that play a role at three distinct levels of sociopsychological adaption: First on the fairly automatic, pre- or subconscious level of mental activity (e.g., categorization); second on the level of controlled, conscious processing (e.g., judgment); and third on the level of behavioral choices and actual behavior (e.g., discrimination). On all these levels, they use the term inhibition to refer to processes or mechanisms aimed at suppressing or inhibiting cognitions or actions that might get in the way of appropriate psychological and social functioning.
Bodenhausen and Macrae, therefore, use the term inhibition rather lightly. Obviously, this is a strength in the sense that it helps to compensate