The sixth chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller’s Cognitive Development, entitled â€œSocial Cognition,â€ entitled â€œSocial Cognition,â€ is most fascinating for what it implies about rationality, and about autism, and what it ignores about diversity. Additionally, it does not address at all an information processing model of social cognition that I prefer.
I believe that rationality is not only possible, but preferable, when it occurs in the absence of rational agency. For instance, 3-year-olds were found to implicitly know where to look for hidden objects but, upon thinking about it, gave incorrect answers (Clements & Perner, 1994). The reason that coming up with good reasons degrades performance is clear: conscious thought requires the use of the prefrontal cortex, instead of already automatized behaviors (Camerer, Loewenstein, & Prelec, 2005). Along with this, situations that do not require coming up with good reasons are perceived by children to be thoughtless, such as merely sitting around (Flavell, Green, & Flavell, 1998). This thoughtlessness is a state to be desired, as it is less error prone and less effortful that having to find good reasons to do what is done.
Autism, and other disorders that impede social awareness, was also a theme of the chapter. I enjoyed the authors breakdown into the conditions of existence, need, and inference (for which they cite Flavell, 1974, among others). I was a pretty clueless kid, so I spent much of my childhood knowing that other people thought, and needing to know their thoughts, but relatively unable to do the â€œmind readingâ€ (193). Older research into very young children confused theory of mind with manipulative competence. Very young children, and perhaps all sufferers of autism-spectrum disorders, may be perfectly aware that other human beings possess agency and have emotional states or something like it, but being able to do something about it is something else entirely.
As in other chapters, population-level human diversity is ignored. Without going into a rant, the authors ignore population level genetic diversity in explaining differences in development between Indians and Americans (J. Miller, 1987). Likewise, a contrast between the autonomy-interdependency focus (Markus & Katiyama, 1991) contrasts Japanese to Americans culturally, rather than genetically. While I bring up the former study merely to show how conclusions are jumped to in the current academic environment, the conclusion of the latter is downright troubling as the genetic variant responsible for novelty-seeking, attention-deficit,, and other (presumably non harmonious) behaviors exists at many times the Japanese rate in America (Ding, 2002). The more reasonable people prefer to ignore scientific findings, the more those findings will be shared in the public’s perception by unreasonable people. Now that we live in a world where descent with modification by means of natural selection has been observed with a population that did not even exist before Christopher Columbus (Tang, et al., 2007), maintaining populations separated for thousands of years cannot vary in more than just their environment is naÃ¯ve.
My preferred model for how people interact with each other, to move on, is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, or OODA, loop (Fadok, Boyd, & Warden, 1995). The OODA loop was designed for life-critical operations (von Lubitz, Carrasco, Levine, & Richir, 2004), and so fits in with â€œself-preservationâ€ as one of the goals of social cognition (Flavell, Miller, & Flavell, 2002). OODA, â€œa model of decision making than a model of individual and organizational learning and adaptationâ€ (Osinga, 2007 5). The OODA view informs my bias against thoughtful decision making, as it allows decision-making to be skipped entirely if one’s orientation can inform ones action through â€œimplicit guidance and controlâ€ (McCrabb, 2002). Like genetic population differences, the reason the OODA loop does not appear in this book is understandable: it is not the subject of ongoing academic research. While the OODA model hosts a productive research program within the military, such literature is obviously of limited to use child cognitive psychologists.
To conclude: rationality is valuable, mind reading is hard, populations differ, and my favorite model of social cognition is not particularly academic. Sigh. So much to learn, so little time.
Cognitive Development, a tdaxp series
2. Infant Perception
3. Infant Cognition
4. Representation and Concepts
5. Reasoning and Problem Solving
6. Social Cognition
9. Questions and Problems