The study of social cognition focuses on how people think about and make sense of themselves, others, and the world of social affairs. This cognitive ap proach highlights the active role that people play in organizing, interpreting, and "constructing" the social world within which they live and interact. Conceptual structures or schemas—internalized knowledge or information—are assumed to play a central role. These structures, derived from previous experiences, are the basis for mental representations (re-presenting objects and events not physically present), and they serve as a frame of reference for interpreting, storing, processing, and using information and experiences. The development of well-differentiated and integrated cognitive structures enables people to select, process, and use social information in a relatively efficient, automatic fashion. Nevertheless, as a comprehensive research review by Richard E. Nisbett and Lee Ross demonstrated, automatic processing increases the likelihood that novel social information may be distorted and biased in a manner consistent with a person's existing conceptual structures. For instance, social stereotyping involves automatically categorizing an individual in terms of a conceptual structure that represents a particular group of people.
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