Cognitive Structure Complexity in Social Cognition and Its Effect on Interpersonal Preference Prediction

Yu Hu, Salem State College, USA
This paper proposes a cognitive mechanism that explains why it is difficult to make accurate predictions of our social partners’ preferences. From a social cognitive view of interpersonal relationship, I propose that a meditating role played social relation is that it affects the cognitive structures that people use to process social information. Specifically, as I contend, the complexity level of cognitive structures that individuals employ to process and store their partners’ information, such as product preferences, is a function of the social distances between them and their partners: people are more likely to use a complex, detailed category structure, as manifested as of greater number and/or narrower breadth of categories, to process close partners’ information; whereas they are more likely to use a simple, abstract category structure, as manifested as of fewer number and/or wider breath of categories, to process distant partners’ information. I further argue that the cognitive structure complexity in close relation not only enables the accumulation of non-diagnostic information, it also consequently affects how individuals search, categorize, and remember that information and how they make subsequent decisions or judgments. Results from two experimental studies confirmed the structural complexity in close relation and also showed that, when processing information on behalf of a close friend (vs. stranger), subjects spent disproportionate efforts on and assigned disproportionate weights to evaluatively secondary (vs. primary) information, which lead them to make inaccurate preference predictions at a later time.
[ to cite ]:
Yu Hu (2010) ,"Cognitive Structure Complexity in Social Cognition and Its Effect on Interpersonal Preference Prediction ", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 37, eds. Margaret C. Campbell, Jeff Inman, and Rik Pieters, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 612-613 .