Social Structure and Cognitive Orientation

Published in: Advances in Group Processes, Volume 34 (2017), pages 129-149. doi:10.1108/S0882-614520170000034006

Posted on on August 25, 2017

by Jeffrey W. Lucas, Carmi Schooler, Marek N. Posard, Hsiang-Yuan Ho

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To investigate two explanations for how variations in social network structure might produce differences in cognitive and perceptual orientation. One explanation is that the extent to which structures lead people to feel strong social bonds encourages holism. The other is that the extent to which a network leads individuals to be concerned about distal network relations leads to holistic thinking.


An experimental study in which participants interacted in three-person networks of negotiated (with or without a one-exchange rule), generalized, or productive exchange before being administered the framed-line test, a common measure of cognitive and perceptual orientation.


Participants in network structures more likely to lead participants to be concerned about what was happening in relationships in the network of which they were not part performed relatively more holistically on the framed-line test. However, these effects did not extend to both modules of the test, and a check on the ordering of networks as reflecting concern with distal network relationships failed.

Research Limitations and Implications

The experimental design was structured such that only one of the presented explanations could possibly be supported, whereas they both could be correct. Nevertheless, results do indicate that cognitive orientation did respond to variations in network structure.


Explanations for cultural differences typically implicate social structure, although the explanations often cannot be directly tested. Results show that social structure can produce effects that mirror differences thought to reflect profound cultural variations.

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