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Chapter Thirteen. Individual Differences in Information Processing

Peter Suedfeld and Philip E. Tetlock

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631210344.2002.00015.x


Because cognition is integral to all of the processes that underlie social behavior, any meaningful investigation must separate it into manageable parts. One way to divide the field is by differentiating questions about what people think (content) from how people think (process). A thorough analysis of individual differences in thought content would have to deal with self-schemata and personality traits as well as variations in just about every topic in social psychology, from self-esteem through attitudes to helping behavior, about which any given person may think consistently over time and across situations. Studying how people think, a somewhat less daunting enterprise, addresses fundamental consistencies that, at least theoretically, permeate the individual's thinking across domains. One major approach is to look at the quality of thought: intelligence, a largely unchanging and substantially heritable characteristic ( Plomin & Rende, 1991 ). Intelligence strongly influences how well people process information about any issue. It is clearly an important aspect of all cognition, and a potent predictor of life outcomes. This notoriously controversial topic has been reviewed in many other publications. Our topic will be a second aspect of how people think: the structure of thought, as opposed to either its content or its quality. This area is generally referred to as ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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