Communication Social Cognition
Michael E. Roloff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0033


Successful communication requires much more than sending and receiving linguistic and nonlinguistic cues. Individuals must also have at least rudimentary knowledge about how people express and interpret intention. Communication researchers who study social cognition investigate how such knowledge is developed and organized and also how it influences human behavior. Although communication scholars have long recognized that cognitive processes play a key role in creating and responding to messages, not much research focused directly on social cognition until the late 1970s, when scholars began to adopt theories used by social psychologists to study how people make sense of others. Initial interest in social cognition was primarily among researchers studying interpersonal communication, but over time social cognition perspectives have been used to study persuasion, small-group decision making, organizational socialization, mass media effects, computer-mediated communication, and cross-cultural communication. Although most social cognition theories remain derivative of those developed by social psychologists, some communication researchers have developed their own perspectives, and perspectives from other fields and disciplines have been imported. The critical mass of social cognition scholars is sufficient enough that they organized a Communication and Social Cognition division within the National Communication Association.


Although the study of social cognition and communication has grown, the number of textbooks is extremely limited. Most textbooks have been written by social psychologists, and the coverage of communication is very limited. However, they provide useful information about theory and research on social cognition, including the range of related social phenomena. The texts often cover the similar material (e.g., attributions, schema, stereotypes) but organize it in different ways. Some identify distinct research approaches to social cognition and use them to understand social processes, such as Augoustinos, et al. 2006. Others attempt to integrate various approaches into a common framework such as Steining, et al. 2006. Some organize the material into key elements and processes of social cognition and then apply them (Fiske and Taylor 2008). Finally, some organize the material into a single construct, such as implicit theories, and then use that construct to understand a variety of social behaviors (Wegner and Vallacher 1977). The appropriate audiences for the texts also vary. Some are very well suited for undergraduates seeking an introduction to the area (e.g., Kunda 1999, Pennington 2000), while others are written at a level more suited for graduate students (e.g., Fiske and Taylor 2008, Strack and Forster 2009).

  • Augoustinos, Martha, Iain Walker, and Ngaire Donaghue. 2006. Social cognition: An integrated introduction. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    NNNFocuses on four approaches used to understand social cognition research: social cognition, social identity, social representations, and discursive psychology. The book lays out the assumptions of each approach while discussing commonalities and differences in how they approach social behavior. It is suitable for advanced undergraduates.

  • Fiske, Susan T., and Shelley E. Taylor. 2008. Social cognition: From brains to culture. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    NNNProvides a thorough coverage of social cognition research conducted in social psychology. The most recent edition has added connections between social cognition and neuroscience. The coverage is thorough, and the discussion is sophisticated. The presentation is too sophisticated for undergraduates unless they are advanced students. However, this is an excellent resource for graduate students.

  • Kunda, Ziva. 1999. Social cognition: Making sense of people. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    NNNSuitable for undergraduates and graduate students, this book covers research focused on person perception, self-perception, decision making, automaticity, affect and cognition, and cultural differences. The writing style is engaging with illustrations of how key processes can be observed in everyday life.

  • Pennington, Donald C. 2000. Social cognition. London: Routledge.

    NNNWritten for an introductory psychology course. It covers the key topics in social cognition including attributions, stereotyping, and social schemas. It also includes exercises that apply social cognition research to everyday life.

  • Steining, Keith, Alex Lascarides, and Jo Calder 2006. Introduction to cognition and communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    NNNAdopts an interdisciplinary approach to understanding cognition and communication including perspectives drawn from linguistics, logic, artificial intelligence, philosophy, and psychology. The authors describe how these knowledge bases can describe the mind and how cognition creates and is reflected in discourse. Material is provided to help students not well-grounded in these research areas.

  • Strack, Fritz, and Jens Forster, eds. 2009. Social cognition: The basis of human interaction. London: Psychology Press.

    NNNThis is an edited anthology suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Well-known researchers have contributed articles focused on their respective areas of expertise. However, there are no chapters focused specifically on interaction, nor are there any chapters written by communication scholars.

  • Wegner, Daniel M., and Robin R. Vallacher. 1977. Implicit psychology: An introduction to social cognition. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    NNNAlthough dated, this book is appropriate for undergraduates. The content is organized around the concept of implicit theories and illustrated with research from areas such as personality and relationships. It is an easy-to-understand introduction to how individuals try and understand themselves and others. And although the literature has expanded well beyond what is covered in the book, this remains an excellent introduction.

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