Morality, Sociability, and Competence: Distinct and interactive Dimensions of Social Cognition

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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dimensional models
social cognition
Social Psychology
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This research explores the structure of social cognitive judgments and the role of moral evaluations in everyday social cognition. In Chapter 1, I show that morality and sociability are distinct dimensions in lay theories of personality and stereotype content, contrary to dominant two-dimensional models of social cognition that consider these to be two closely related aspects of a superordinate prosocial dimension of judgment. In three studies, judgments of real targets’ morality and sociability did not factor together, differed in terms of mean levels, and did not correlate any more highly than they did with judgments of competence. An additional study found that cluster analysis differentiated judgments of social groups on the basis of their perceived morality and sociability, and that these dimensions of judgment differently predicted intergroup emotions. I also elaborate a functionalist account of why these three dimensions should matter in person and group perception. In Chapter 2, I build on this functionalist account, and show that morality is the only one of these dimensions that is unambiguously positive – five studies show that sociability and competence are seen as positive attributes contingent upon a target’s positive morality, and are seen as less positive, and sometimes as truly negative, in immoral others. Finally, in Chapter 3, I examine the importance of morality, sociability, and competence in the self. It is widely accepted that people primarily care about morality in others, but primarily care about competence in the self. I challenge this assertion, and show that morality is highly valued in the self. Three studies showed that people are often more upset by challenges to their morality than to their competence or sociability. Moreover, the third study shows that reactions to threats to one’s morality, competence, and sociability engage different negative emotions. I propose that morality is at least as central to people’s identities as competence, and that prior results suggesting that competence is primary are due to peoples’ high confidence regarding their own morality. This program of research emphasizes the importance of morality in everyday social cognition and the distinctness of morality from other evaluative dimensions, particularly sociability.

Geoffrey P. Goodwin
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