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Book Forum: Mind and Brain   |    
The Social Mind: Cognitive and Motivational Aspects of Interpersonal Behavior
EDWARD M. OPTON, Jr., Ph.D., J.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2003;160:398-398. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.160.2.398
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Oakland, Calif.

Edited by Joseph P. Forgas, Kipling D. Williams, and Ladd Wheeler. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2001, 444 pp., $59.95.

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In 1999, two dozen or more social psychologists interacted with one another in a 3-day symposium. They have now reworked their papers into the 19 chapters of The Social Mind. The reader will not find the social mind defined in these 444 pages; it continues to be a concept quite fuzzy around the edges, or even in the middle. For the 32 authors of The Social Mind, the concept is more a symbol to rally around than an idea on whose boundaries they could all agree. The editors aspire to anchor the "social mind" at the intersection of thought, affect, and action, but it may be more accurate to say that it floats back and forth in the vicinity of those concepts, a spur to research and thought.

What the reader will find is a set of reports by leading researchers at the interface of cognition, emotion, and social behavior. In plain language, what people think and feel influences what they do in social situations, and vice versa.

Most of the chapters summarize their authors’ entire research programs. These comprehensive overviews provide the main value of the book. A student considering a career in social psychology could use the essays to make an informed judgment as to whether he or she is interested in the sorts of research programs described.

The best of the chapters, in my opinion, are those most firmly tied to real-world action, e.g., "Inside the Social Mind of the Ostracizer" by K.D. Williams, L. Wheeler, and J.A.R. Harvey. These authors asked people to make detailed records, day by day, of instances in which they snubbed, ignored, or declined to interact with others. The patterns of self-reported behavior are hardly surprising, but they provide a good foundation for what may be productive research on a little-studied but very important type of social behavior.

The majority of the essays, however, deal with research programs whose data consist of self-reports on abstract concepts: self-esteem, self-presentation, self-construction, identity, and the like. These chapters contain a high proportion of obscure phrasings such as, "One explanation is a default process that merely thinking of a characteristic automatically affirms it of the evoking concept unless, by a second operation, one explicitly negates it" (p. 32). One grasps at the surrounding text for a handhold on the intended meaning, but the next sentence pulls one deeper into the dark: "Three other explanations…involve distinctiveness, a tree diagram organization of the social mind, and confounding with markedness." This sort of problematic composition, occurring not infrequently, will limit the readership of this book.

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