9.2 Dodge’s Social Information-Processing Model: The Five Stages

Jan 15, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch9 Knowledge Processes & Models

How do we understand our world and attribute meaning to it? There is a series of five stages that we go through cognitively when we face an event and decide to act on it. Kenneth Dodge called it a Social Information-Processing Model.

Social Information Processing Theory

How do people start to make sense out of day-to-day events? Why is it that different individuals respond differently to the same situation?

Patty is in second grade and was just dropped off at her elementary school. She immediately runs from her parent’s side to join her friends watching Tootee, the new turtle class pet. Another student arrives, but he doesn’t seem near as excited to join the class. Brian wraps his arms around his mother’s leg and doesn’t want to leave her side. She has to virtually drag him into the room, while he starts crying and hitting her.

There are many reasons Patty and Brian could act as differently as they do. Things like personality, temperament, upbringing and biology to name a few. But in this lesson, we are going to look at the way these kids think of and make sense out of social events, like being in school.

Dr. Kenneth Dodge was fascinated with the way behavior comes about as a result of one’s understanding and interacting with their world. He explained our cognitive processes by creating a theory called social information processing. It states that individuals choose to act a certain way in a given situation through a series of five stages. They include encoding, mental representations, response accessing, evaluation and enactment. Each of these stages is a progression in receiving information from the environment, making sense out of it and then acting.

Stages of Social Information Processing

Stage 1: Encoding

When someone is faced with a certain situation, the first thing they do is encode cues from it in order to have something to interpret. For example, when Brian arrives at school he may observe a few of the boys. He notices they are looking at him and laughing as he hugs his mother’s leg. Patty, however, sees cues of peers having fun and enjoying the new pet.

Stage 2: Mental Representations

Once cues in a situation are noticed and focused on, they are given meaning through a person’s interpretation of them. Brian interprets the boys’ laughter to mean that he is not welcomed and not liked. Patty, however, interprets the happy faces of the girls to mean that she will have fun too when she joins them. When cues are given meaning, they are considered to be mental representations.

Stage 3: Response Accessing

Response accessing refers to physical responses – seen and unseen – that come from mental representations. Brian’s physical response was crying and an elevated heartbeat. Patty also had an elevated heartbeat but relaxed muscles due to her contentment. Because Brian’s mental representations were different than Patty’s, he responded negatively. If he had only focused on other cues in the classroom, like a boy who smiled at him and waved, he also would have had a relaxed response accessing.

Stage 4: Evaluation

Before Brian or Patty act in any overt ways, they evaluate whether or not they should. Upon arrival, Brian may think about walking into the classroom and being unhappy with his peers. He may also think of what will happen if he clings to his mother and aggressively refuses to leave her. On the other hand, Patty may think about waiting with her parents until the class starts and considering if running into the room will have good results. This evaluation of action may happen quickly, but the fact is it still takes place.

Stage 5: Enactment

When a particular action is chosen and then acted upon, we have enactment. When Brian started hitting his mother as she dragged him into the room and when Patty chose to run to her peers at the turtle tank, they displayed enactment.

Dodge and Aggression

Of particular interest to Dodge was the tendency for certain individuals to display aggressive behavior in a given situation when others did not. He attributed this to different ways of seeing and reading the world around them. Brian is an example of picking out unpleasant cues in his surroundings and viewing them as threatening. He also said that those who resort to aggressive behavior have acquired only a limited number of options for responding to events, and most of them are violent.

Perhaps Brian had a younger brother who would push him and he would do the same in response. Perhaps he had become accustomed to looking for signs of hostility and had learned to respond to them with aggressive behavior. If his parents did not punish him for this behavior, he would feel that it is acceptable. Also, if it stopped his brother from picking on him for a while, he would be encouraged to continue it.

Lesson Summary

To review, through his social information processing theory, Kenneth Dodge explained to us the cognitive processes we go through when encountering situations. His stages address what happens as we notice an event, make sense out of it and choose an action in response. He labeled the stages encoding, mental representations, response accessing, evaluation and enactment.

Dodge also studied individuals who often responded with aggressive behavior. He discovered that those who did usually had a history of focusing on unpleasant cues, perceiving them as threatening and lacking options for responding in healthy ways.

Learning Outcomes

When you are finished with this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Understand the theories of Kenneth Dodge
  • Identify the five stages of the Social Information-Processing Model
  • Describe Dodge’s observation of aggression and decision cues
9.3 Mental Imagery: Process & Model
9.1 Cognitive Map: Definition and Examples