All about gen­er­at­ing social con­text online

Miles Tufft, UCL


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In our lab we study how social con­texts struc­ture cog­ni­tion. Behav­iours and their asso­ci­at­ed cog­ni­tive mech­a­nisms do not exist in a vac­u­um but in a world that is nat­u­ral­ly social and rich in con­text. As such we are always sit­u­at­ed with­in an ongo­ing and dynam­ic inter­play between our actions and the con­texts in which they play out. We aim to recre­ate social con­texts in the lab while main­tain­ing an accept­able degree of con­trol, allow­ing us to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly inves­ti­gate the rela­tion­ship between high­er order social fac­tors such as social hier­ar­chies or group mem­ber­ship and low­er lev­el cog­ni­tive phe­nom­e­na such as inter­fer­ence effects. In order to do this we often manip­u­late par­tic­i­pants’ expec­ta­tions, deceiv­ing them into believ­ing they are engaged in social inter­ac­tions when in real­i­ty they are not. Sit­u­a­tion­al believ­abil­i­ty is there­fore cru­cial to the valid­i­ty of our manip­u­la­tions. Trans­lat­ing this into an online envi­ron­ment presents its own set of unique chal­lenges that reflect the decon­tex­tu­alised nature of meet­ing online, while at the same time pre­sent­ing a num­ber of ben­e­fits in terms of effi­cien­cy and scal­a­bil­i­ty. Using exam­ples from our cur­rent exper­i­ments, I will share our learn­ings and the spe­cif­ic meth­ods we have adopt­ed to turn up the social dial online. In par­tic­u­lar, I will dis­cuss the bal­ance that we’ve had to strike between exper­i­men­tal com­plex­i­ty and sit­u­a­tion­al believ­abil­i­ty that will lead to an ongo­ing sense of con­nec­tion while main­tain­ing focus and engagement.

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