Associated Systems Theory: A Systematic Approach to Cognitive Representations of Persons

By Robert S. Wyer | Go to book overview

5
Some Metasystematic Thoughts on a Systematic Approach to Social Cognition

Klaus Fiedler University of Heidelberg, Germany

The aim of a systems approach to social cognition is to overcome a stage of theory formation that is characterized by a number of well-established microtheories built around rather specific experimental paradigms, but a lack of an overarching macrotheory that allocates a taxonomic place and a functional role to specific models. This is an ambitious aim and, I should add, a timely one, given the current state of affairs in cognitive social psychology. Donal Carlston is among the few theorists (see also Fiske & Pavelchak, 1986; Forgas, 1992; Wyer & Srull, 1989) who have tackled this important and complex problem, and no doubt the degree of sophistication he has reached in his Associated Systems Theory (AST) approach is impressive. Expanding the original distinction of four basic systems (visual, verbal, affective, and action system), Carlston arrives at a 3 x 3 classification of the modes in which person-related information can be represented. Although AST is introduced as a bottom-up approach that starts from given phenomena and features of brain systems rather than axiomatic or normative considerations, the classifications are neatly ordered in terms of two underlying dimensions: concreteness versus abstractness and target versus, self-reference. The elegance and inner consistency of AST is due to the fact that the same 3 x 3 scheme within the same two generic dimensions can be discovered at various levels of assessment: at the conceptual level of mental subsystems (Fig. 1.2), in a neurological and anatomical inquiry of brain systems and associated clinical disorder (Fig. 1.3), a corresponding taxonomy of human behaviors (Table 1.3), or the empirical level in an INDSCAL analysis of format-free verbalizations of person-related information ( Carlston & Sparks, 1992). Such convergence creates a feeling of

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