Processing bias: Individual differences in the cognition of situations


  • We thank the following individuals for helpful suggestions and stimulating discussions about cognition and personality Pamela Burke, Daryl Bem, James Cunningham, Frank Keil Robert Kraut, Steven Lewis, Andrea Megela, Ulric Neisser, Dennis Regan, and Barbara Winstead, and we express our warm appreciation to Julie Dworkin for helping out in a pinch Portions of the research reported in this article were conducted by the second author in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree at Cornell University This research was conducted at Cornell University and was supported in part by NIMH grant MH 33302-01 to the first author

Requests for reprints should be sent to Robert H Dworkin, Departments of Anesthesiology and Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, 622 West 168th Street New York, NY 10032


An approach to investigating individual differences in the cognition of situations is presented Situations are characterized in terms of Gibson s notion of affordances, and it is suggested that individuals differ in the extent to which they differentially process information specifying certain types of affordances rather than others This differential cognitive processing of a situational affordance is termed a “processing bias” It is proposed that processing biases are manifest in an individual's anticipation, perception, and memory of situations To illustrate the approach, a processing bias for social vs nonsocial affordances is investigated within and among these three cognitive domains The relationship of this processing bias to two facets of the personality trait dimension of sociability—overall level and self-schemata—is also examined Such research on processing biases may help to clarify the role of cognition in person-situation interactions The greatest strength of the approach is that its characterization of individual differences in cognition and behavior is complementary to a general approach to describing human environments