The Paradox of Social Information Processing Theory

By Benjamin Hersh.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Why do some people behave aggressively in the apparent absence of positive reinforcement? Many scientific research programs have addressed this question in the last quarter of a century, but the dominant approach has been the Social Information Processing theory of aggression. SIP theory offers a computational framework for analyzing behavioral conduct disorders, and supports a variety of applied psychological interventions as the largest recipient of federal funding in the history of psychology. Due to its broad influence and impact on the lives of many vulnerable human subjects, it is critically important to understand the limitations of SIP theory, and how future research might correct for them. In this paper, I argue that the most limiting constraint on SIP theory is its use of purely intra-personal models in the study of fundamentally interpersonal problems. I explore the historical origins of SIP theory in order to demonstrate that this limitation is not a fixed or necessary aspect of the research program, but a result of dated contingencies that persist through institutional inertia. I propose the incorporation of insights from the study of social identity and implicit theories of intelligence as two complementary strategies for undoing the tethers that bind SIP theory to its historical origins.

Keywords: Aggression, Delinquency, Psychology, Social Cognition, Social Information Processing Theory, History of Science, Education

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.53-74. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.540MB).

Benjamin Hersh

Researcher, Psychology Department, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

I am the Director of Research for the nationally-syndicated radio enrichment program Philosophy Talk, as well as a graduate student at Stanford University, where I study Psychology with Prof. Lera Boroditsky. My research primarily focuses on psycholinguistics, but I also have a strong interest in applied psychology in educational contexts. I hold a bachelor's degree in the history and philosophy of science, and have previously done research in the history of education and psychology.