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Social cognition

The process of perception and judgment with which we make sense of the social world
How we think about our relationships affects how we experience them

First impressions

Have enormous staying power
Quick decisions
First 39 milliseconds--basic emotion
First 1/10 second--attractiveness, trustworthiness
5-second conversation--extroverted, conscientious, intelligent


Allows us to categorize people easily
Unconscious; time-saving
Ex. physical appearance

Primacy effect

Our first knowledge about someone carries more weight than later knowledge
First impressions are a filter for the other info we learn

Confirmation bias

Confirms our initial bias
Over time, people are overly confident they have made accurate decisions about others and become more confident but remain more inaccurate (e.g. sexual history)

Who knows best?

People's ability to judge their partners accurately can be hindered by their emotional attachment and hopes for the future
Parents know better --> roommates/girlfriends know best

The "up side"

Idealizing our partners create positive illusions (a mix of realism/idealism; emphasizing virtues/minimizing faults)
Helps to maintain satisfaction
We DO NOT ignore our partner's shortcomings
Illusions are created through a series of interpretations (Deficiencies are less important, common, routine; Positive qualities are rare, unique, special: Judge their partners more positively than others or than the partner his or herself)
Increased commitment to maintain relationship
Improves self-esteem for both
Eventually identify our partner's attributes as our ideal as long as we don't deceive ourselves! (Avoids disillusionment)
Ex. (extreme) Night Stalker (Married when he was on Death Row; wife had no idea he was a murderer)


How we explain why our partner did (or did not) do something
We can explain behavior:
(1) Internal vs. external (students/tests)
(2) Stable vs. circumstantial (internal abilities or something uncontrollable)
(3) Global vs. specific (affects a lot or a few)

Positive patterns

Happy couples tend to make relationship-enhancing attributions
Partner's negative behavior = external, unstable, specific
Partner's positive behavior = internal, stable, global

Negative patterns

Unhappy couples tend to make distress-maintaining attributions
Partner's positive behavior = external, unstable, specific
Partner's negative behavior = internal, stable, global

Actor/observer effects

People generate different explanations for their own behavior
"She makes me angry when she does that"
External attributions for ourselves; internal for others
"He's so temperamental; he needs to learn to control himself."
Diminishes when you try to understand each other's point of view (rarely vanishes; long-term couples are less likely to do this)

Self-serving bias

Individuals like to take credit for their successes, but avoid taking responsibility for their shortcomings
We are aware of our own good intentions, but we judge the actions of others at face value
Ex. housecleaning


Reconstructive memory (current feelings influence memories about your shared past)
Couples co-construct detailed accounts of their history together
A couple's account of how they met predicts their future relationship stability
Like our perceptions, memories influence subsequent interpretations

Relationship beliefs

Some have negative effects on the quality and stability of relationships
Schemas (a filing for our knowledge about relationships; mentalized filing cabinet)
Romanticism (true love)
Dysfunctional (Disagreements are destructive; Sex is perfect every time; Great relationships just happen; Partners cannot change; Mind-reading is essential; Men and women are different)

Destiny beliefs

The "happily ever after" principle
If two people are meant to be together, they will know immediately, have no doubts and experience effortless happiness
Inflexible beliefs about partner
Ex. Disney princesses
These beliefs are negative

Growth beliefs

Happy relationships develop over time
Gain strength through hard work
More adaptable in expectations
These beliefs are positive

Attachment styles

Secure = more generous, optimistic and kindly in their judgments of partners
More likely to have positive attribution patterns


Comes from relationship beliefs
Self-fulfilling prophecies (Fig. 4.4) when false perceptions become true
Can equal relationship baggage!


Our assessments of ourselves are powerful
Self-concept--all the beliefs/feelings we have about ourselves
Self-enhancement--seek feedback from others to make us feel good
Self-verifications--looking to verify what you already know (marriage shift)


Possess highly inflated unrealistics of their talents, desirability, self-worth
Strong self-serving bias
Biased memories of others' reactions to them
Less committed to romantic (always on the prowl)

Impression management

Influencing the impression that others form about us, whether we're thinking about it or not
Increases our chances of accomplishing interpersonal objectives
Ex. Hitch dance lesson
Most people don't misrepresent themselves
Women lie about weight; men lie about height

Impression management strategies

(1) Ingratiation--seek acceptance from those we like; charming and charismatic (Interviews; positive)
(2) Self-promotion--wanting to promote talents or abilities (Interviews; positive)
(3) Intimidation--portray yourself as ruthless to get bidding; abusive (Facebook; negative)
(4) Supplication--inept to avoid obligation (FB: negative)

Impression management in close relationships

We don't try as hard
Use on behalf of our partners (mutuality)
Individual differences


High self-monitors have more friends than low ones
Are also less close to them
Shorter, somewhat less committed relationships

How well do we know our partners?

We perceive that our partners are more like us than they really are
Perceiving similarity and understanding increases relationship satisfaction
Factors that determine how (in)accurate our judgments are: knowledge, motivation, partner legibility, threatening perceptions, perceiver influence

Perceiver ability

How insightful we are about others
Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is the set ability to perceive, use, understand emotions; individuals w/ high EI enjoy more satisfying/intimate interactions with others; Women have higher EI than men; Training and practice can improve EI

Threatening perceptions

Sometimes it's good to be clueless
Preoccupied attachment = more accurate when situation is threatening
Dismissive = divert their attention and more

Communication process

Sender's intentions Sender's action Effect on listener
* = potential points of miscommunication because of interference and interruption

Interpersonal gap

Sender's intentions doesn't equal effect on receiver
E-mail, AIM
Perception is reality (happy and unhappy [hear as critical] couples --> outcome is difference)

Components of nonverbal communication

Facial expression
Body movement
Interpersonal distance

Facial expressions

Universal signals of emotion
Basic emotions < 1 second
Display rules--cultural norms that dictate which emotions are appropriate for different social settings
Hiding our true emotions (intensify, minimize, neutralize, mask)
If you're hiding emotions, you're likely to get caught by others (real vs. fake smile [eye crinkles]; microexpressions [little flashes of real emotion])

Body movement

By watching a person's body movements for 10 seconds --> 72% accuracy
Heterosexual men swagger shoulder; women sway hips
Change those up and we often correctly assume he/she is heterosexual
1/2 second face time = 70% accuracy
Gestures vary widely from culture to culture
Language of the face needs no interpreter but body language does!
Harder to control posture and motion than facial expressions


The direction and amount of a person's eye contact
Lovers --> friends --> acquaintances
Eye contact communicates interest, affection and dominance

Visual dominance ratio

Compares the percentage of time the speaker looks at the listener and vice-versa
40/60 is ordinary
60/40 is high power


Way to gain info (i.e. handshake)
Dominance based on touch frequencies (high status people > low status)
Gender differences (men > women)

Interpersonal distance

Public zone = 12' +
Social zone = 4-12'
Personal zone = 1 1/2-4'
Intimate zone = 0-18"
*Indicates level of intimacy, status, culture


How a person speaks (e.g. rhythm, loudness, rate, etc.)
Lovers use different paralanguage (longer delays, more silence; women are submissive when talking to boyfriends than male friends)
Women sound more attractive just before they ovulate

Nonverbal sensitivity

How good you are at picking up nonverbal
Linked to relationship satisfaction
Women are better
Men in unhappy marriages are at fault because they don't pick up cues as easily; send more confusing messages (even violent men)
Understood messages of strangers better than their spouse (men and women)

Gender differences in nonverbal

Women smile more and touch less
Use smaller interpersonal distance
Use submissive paralanguage
Lower VDR
Use closed, symmetrical posture
Have more nonverbal sensitivity


The process of revealing information
Provides a sense of immediate closeness
Linked to relationship satisfaction
Women disclose more than men in established relationship, but not w/ strangers (men and women are same)
Blirtatiousness--rapid fire conversation

Social penetration theory

The development of a relationship is systematically tied to changes in communication
Begin shallow/narrow --> increase in breadth/depth
Reciprocity--disclosure is based on amount partner discloses (responsiveness in sustained intimacy)
Selective secrecy

Taboo topics

68% of respondents said the state of the relationship was off-limits
We don't ask, we create secret tests
Social depenetration occurs when breadth/depth changes (worst is decrease in breadth but not depth [dagger])

Secret tests

(1) Triangle test--see how your partner responds to another attractive person
(2) Endurance test--contrive difficult tasks to see if your lover can survive (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)
(3) Separation test--see how your lover reacts when you reunite

Gender differences in verbal

-Have more intimate conversations w/ same-sex friends
-Speak w/ less forcefulness (leave wiggle room)
-Are less profane
-Speak more often w/ fewer monologues (short, frequent pauses)
-More self-disclosing in established relationships and elicit more self-disclosure
-Are taken more seriously

Roots of miscommunication

Interpersonal gap--encoding and decoding
Nonverbal communication is hard to read
Men aren't great at it
Bad relationships <--> poor communication skills

Communication minefield

(1) Kitchen-sinking--throwing everything out at once
(2) Off-beam--bounce from topic to topic; can't focus on main problem
(3) Mindreading--about assuming you understand your partner's thoughts & feelings w/o asking
(4) Interruptions--can be positive (clarification) or negative (disagree or fight for control of convo)
(5) Yes-but--acknowledge then dismiss and attack
(6) Cross-complaining--don't acknowledge complaint and volley another jab back; similar to "yes-but" but only "but"

Gottman's 4 horsemen of the apocalypse

(1) Criticism--attacking partner's personality or character
(2) Contempt--characterized by insults, mockery or hostile behavior (Bridezilla example)
(3) Defensiveness--hurl accusations back
(4) Stonewalling--become silent and disengaged

Strategies for better communication

Behavior description (focus on discrete behaviors; avoids "always" and "never")
I-Statements (put yourself at the center of statement; helps you own your feelings)
XYZ statements (formula for I-statements; when you do X in situation Y, I feel Z; X/Y = behavioral description; Z = I-statement)

Active listening

2 tasks: understand and communication attention/comprehension
Paraphrasing--"So what I'm hearing you say..."
Perception checking--opposite of mindreading; ask if you're correct in your reading
Very difficult when you're angry

Be nice

Stay calm when provoked
Remember, no stonewalling
Take timeouts


Acknowledging what someone thinks, feels or says about something
Don't have to agree
Invite dialogue

Social context cues theory

Less info available (physical environment, nonverbals, paralanguage)
Communication is more excited and uninhibited
Relationships are less intimate and more aggressive (develops faster)

Social presence theory

The feeling that others are involved in the communication exchange
Very low in online interactions
Less personal and intimate

Media richness theory

Medium = form of communication (in person, phone, IM, e-mail)
A rich communication medium has:
- Instant feedback
- Multiple cues
- Natural language
- Personal focus
Face-to-face is the richest medium

Early conclusions

Online relationships are less intimate, rich, meaningful
Genuine relationships can't be formed online
Internet usage can have negative effects on individual (diminished social circle and increased depression/loneliness)

Less can mean more

People are less self-conscious online
Reveal more intimate details (especially men)
Plenty of cues (emoticons and content of messages can tell if you're talking to a man or woman)

Positive effects of online anonymity

Benign inhibition
Sexual liberation (especially women)
Identity development (self-concept)
Exposure to new cultures; links people to other social worlds

Negative effects of online anonymity

Toxic disinhibition


People flirt in person by smiling, laughing, touching
Online, use emoticons, acronyms, screen names
Better use of these = better flirting

Sex online

Cybersex--people engaging in simultaneous discussion of sexual fantasies typically while masturbating
Triple A engine (access, affordability, anonymity)
Benefit is less inhibition (esp in women)

Why go online?

Shyness 10%
Attracted to number of choices 47%
No other option due to work, family or lifestyle 67%
Convenience 35%
91% looking for LTRs
12% looking for fun or casual sex

Online attraction

Physical attraction is still important (more so on dating sites)
People also look for:
- Shared interests and values
- Personality
- Honesty, genuineness
- Proximity

First meeting

Most people want to meet F2F within a week (need to see if there's physical chemistry/get the ball rolling)
Online contact preps for meeting (social penetration theory may not apply/cut to the chase)
"Screening out" rather than romantic
Most meet in coffee shops

Deception online

Mostly about looks
68% went on a date w/ someone who lied about looks
42% about weight/size (women > men)
17% about height (men > women)

Online infidelity

Types: sexual, emotional, pornography
Behaviors that constitute cheating:
- Cybersex 44%
- Emotional involvement 39%
- Online dating 37%
- Sexual interactions 37%
- Accessing porn 11%
- Nothing (online relationships aren't real) 8%

Facebook and jealousy

Survey of 308 college students
Avg 39 min/day on FB
79% at least somewhat likely to have ex as friend
Time on FB predicted jealousy
Exposure to info leads to "nosy partners" and more surveillance


Survey of 100 young adults (18-35)
Attachment styles:
- Preoccupied= more negative texts
- Avoidant = emotionless texts (anxiety, hurt)
- Both used texts to avoid rejection/confrontation
15% of participants dumped their partners in a text
Can increase intimacy for some
11% use in sexual/flirtatious way
Women send more "thinking of you" texts

Social exchange theory

Economic view of relationships
Social life entails the mutual exchange of desirable rewards with others
People are like shoppers
Both partners must feel like they're getting a good deal
Maximize rewards; minimize costs

Rewards and costs

Rewards--anything positive we get out of a relationship
Costs--anything negative
*Determined individually


Approach--we have an appetite for positive experiences (rewards)
-Self-expansion model--expand interests, skills, experiences
Avoidance--we avoid negative outcomes (costs)

Social exchange theory formula

Rewards - costs = outcome
We evaluate outcomes based on expectations and how well we could do without our partner
Positive outcomes alone are not enough to sustain a relationship (raw score)

Comparison level

What we believe we deserve from a relationship (expectations)
Based on past experiences
Satisfaction is based on the relationship b/w CL and outcome
Satisfaction is a continuum

CL for alternatives

Evaluation based on how well we could do w/o partner (subjective)
If prospects are better, we leave
If prospects are worse, we stay even if relationship is miserable
Contentment is not major determinant of whether we stay or leave
Your CLalt is what you think it is


Things you would lose if the relationship ended
Tangible (ex. "my stuff")
Psychological (ex. have to start from the beginning)

Keep in mind

Satisfaction and CLalts are correlated/interdependent
Investments are influential in the decision to stay or go

Principle of lesser interest

The person who is least dependent has more alternatives/power
The person w/ higher CLalt (better alternatives) has less to lose by leaving

CL and CLalt over time

CLs rise over time
We have a hard time maintaining the outcomes that initially kept us in the relationship (relational turbulence model says we should expect diminish to happen)
Sociocultural influence may explain decreased satisfaction in marriages
Era of "permanent availability"

Intimacy is costly

Unique rewards and frustrations
Pushing their buttons
Ruder/less forgiving to partner than anyone else
The more you trust someone, the more liberties you take in how you treat them (e.g. parents)
Bad is more powerful than good

Why there are so many unhappy relationships

We define costs and rewards individually
We have to value the rewards we're getting
Gender can play a role (task oriented rewards vs. affection)

Relational turbulence model

Suggests we should expect a period of adjustment and turmoil after time (satisfaction declines)
Happens because of:
- Lack of effort
- Interdependence is a magnifying glass
- Access to weaponry
- Unwelcome surprises
- Unrealistic expectations

How to avoid pitfalls

You need a positive outlook, rooted in good sense
e.g. communal and equitable relationships

Communal relationship

Mutual responsiveness to the other's needs
Don't keep a careful account of costs and rewards


A person's intention to continue a relationship
Can be positive or negative
3 themes of committed partners: (1) Expectation; (2) Long-term view; (3) Psychological attachment

Investment model

Commitment emerges from elements of social exchange
Satisfaction/alternatives/investment --> commitment level --> decision to stay

Types of commitment

(1) Personal - want to stay b/c you're happy
(2) Constraint - feel you have to stay b/c it's too costly to leave
(3) Moral - made vows ('til death do us part)

Consequences of commitment

Can tolerate periods of high cost and low reward
Protect and maintain
Accommodative behavior (keeps you from fighting back)
Willingness to sacrifice
Perceived superiority

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