Themes and trends of current research in social cognition: Introduction to the special issue
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This special issue of Polish Psychological Bulletin: 37(2006) Nr1 presents six papers from laboratories in Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, and United States (all abstracted in CEJSH). The goal of this issue is to present exciting findings that illustrate new conceptual development in social cognition. Each paper addresses a 'hot' question about how people perceive, represent, and judge the social world, and approaches this question from an innovative theoretical and methodological perspective. PREVIEW & HIGHLIGHTS. All papers in this issue address basic mechanisms of social cognition, but they focus on different processing stages. The issue is organized in a bottom-up fashion, and starts with papers focusing on basic perceptual processes and closes with papers focusing on complex inferential processes. Drogosz & Nowak explore the mechanisms of the mere-exposure effect, and the puzzle of 'emotional pre-cognition', or how one can affectively discriminate between stimuli before they are consciously recognized. Using a connectionist model, they show that early processing of familiar, as compared to novel, stimuli exhibits a more coherent, less noisy network dynamics. This coherent dynamics presumably underlies a more favorable affective response to repeated stimuli. Further, the authors show that early, nonspecific network dynamics allows 'affective' discrimination of familiar stimuli before any stimulus-specific recognition. Reber & Schwarz examine the mechanisms underlying the often observed preference for symmetrical objects - a phenomenon observed in human and non-human animals. In contrast to a narrow evolutionary explanation focusing on symmetry as a health cue, the authors argue that preference for symmetry derives from a more general mechanism that links positive affective reactions to high fluency (ease of stimulus processing). The authors support their argument with two experiments that manipulate symmetry, along with other fluency-related variables such as contrast and smoothness, and show parallel effects of these variables on fluency and liking. Halberstadt and Badland address the role of emotional response in categorization and argue that similarity between social objects can result from the common emotion triggered by the objects. To systematically test this hypothesis, the authors manipulate the emotional response to an object using the mere-exposure effect and show an increase of similarity of this object to another favorable object. McIntosh presents two experiments that investigate the role of social relationships in spontaneous mimicry. He records a participant's response using facial electromyography during a live interaction, and shows that spontaneous mimicry is greater when the participant's liking for the model is experimentally enhanced, and also when the participant and the model are friends. The author discusses his findings in the context of theoretical debates about the role of contagion in social functioning, and possible consequences of impairments in the 'mirroring' process for disorders such as autism.
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