Social cognition focuses on the mental processes involved in social interactions. In the participatory planning process, which puts into use the knowledge and skills of individuals through active interaction, the study of social cognitive abilities seems relevant. The objective of this article is to review the social cognitive factors and their implications in participatory planning and designing. Social cognitions are observed early in childhood and they develop over decades through experience. It appears that they are partially independent of formal intelligence. The existing data suggests that social cognition may have a biological basis in the form of neurophysiological substrates and genetic loci. Social cognitions help in comprehending, adjusting interpretations, thinking of multiple alternatives, social problem solving and in various other processes. Social cognitions are instrumental in dealing with a variety of interpersonal problems observed during interactions in the group and in coping with potential stressors like negative outcomes. Various factors like positive mood states, belief in self-efficacy and goals may affect social cognition and planning and decision-making processes. These findings suggest that practitioners and researchers of participatory change processes should pay attention to social cognition. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.