Fishing With the Right Associative Net: Appreciation and Apprehension Regarding Associated Systems Theory
Scott Van Manen Susan T. Fiske University of Massachusetts at Amherst
The history of science might be described as a quest for ever more inclusive theories. In this view, a theory as comprehensive as Associated Systems Theory (AST) brings the field of social cognition one step farther in its evolution. The integration of such vital and diverse fields as neuropsychology, parallel distributed processing, and social perception is an impressive achievement. The fact that AST continues past this point -- to show applications in such disparate areas as self-monitoring and attitude-behavior consistency-is all the more striking.
Yet one might also think that a less abstract level is the appropriate territory of social psychology. For example, as Taylor ( 1981) noted, in the late 1960s, social psychology turned from the more macrotheoretical focus, such as all grander versions of consistency theory, to a more minitheoretical focus.
A third possibility is that, to some extent, the level of abstraction of a theory is determined by the phenomena it addresses. For example, we would expect a theory that addresses the antecedents of divorce to be less abstract than a general theory of cognition. Although it is doubtful that the divorce theory will explain general cognition as well as the general cognition theory, it is also doubtful that the general theory of cognition will explain divorce as well as the divorce theory.
In this sense, theories are like fishing nets: They are designed to catch, or account for, phenomena. Some nets -- those loosely knit with large holes -- are better for catching bigger, more complicated phenomena, but they may let the little ones get away. Conversely, the tightly knit nets catch the little phenomena, but the big ones often avoid the net completely.
Therefore, we approach lAST with a mixturef of appreciation and