Communication, Social Memory and Social Cognition Essay

Communication, Social Memory and Social Cognition Essay Sample

In general meaning, salience is a state or quality of standing out relative to neighboring items, or, in other words forcing itself on the attention, prominent, conspicuous, and noticeable.

Salient people stand out of the crowd due to physical, behavioral or other distinctions. The causes may vary from innate characteristics to acquired differences. The salience depends not only on the outstanding features of the perceived but also on the characteristics of the homogeneous environment that make the person stand out.

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The feeling of belonging and relatedness are among the basic psychological needs of humans. And although self-actualization is also important and, even, a higher-level need, salience is not always easy to handle for both the perceiver and the perceived.

Let us analyze the phenomenon of salience using the Pleasantville movie as a source. As we meet the protagonists – Jennifer and David – who are twins, we see that David is very much unlike his sister. She is trying to look “cool”, smoking, dating with Mark Davis, one of the popular guys. Despite her bright features she is less salient than her brother. David is shy and sensitive, a TV-series fan, who cites every episode and is able to answer the trickiest questions about the plot.

Kimmy: [about David] Oh, my God. He is, like, so pathetic. I can’t believe you’re, like, related to him!
Jennifer: Only on my parents’ side.
Kimmy: Yeah, but you guys are, like, twins and stuff. You must be from the cool side of the uterus.

Jennifer and David are the two extremes of salience – one popular and cool, while the other boring and unattractive. Therefore salience thus may be both positive and negative and have various effects on both the perceiver and the perceived. Sometimes a salient person feels socially detached and therefore lonely, experiencing difficulties in communication and social cognition. People usually tend to be guided by previous knowledge in perceiving the surrounding and any deviations from the accustomed ways may cause the rejection of the stimulus (whether a person or a behavior).

Depending on whether the salient features conform to the general understanding of normal and acceptable, the salient person either delights others or provokes hostility towards him or herself. In any case, salient people stand out against the crowd and attract attention. The consequences might be both positive and negative (social acceptance or, on the contrary, hatred and oppression).

When Jennifer and David find themselves in Pleasantville, as Bud and Mary-Sue Parker, completely assimilated and therefore black and white, Jennifer exclaims “Look at me! I’m pasty!”. To her, being like others in difficult to stand. To David, it is normal and even… pleasant. It is something he has always wanted to feel like, watching the Pleasantville TV show and learning the citations by heart.

At first, he wants to come back home (although much less than his sister), but even having no opportunity to do so, he obviously enjoys the rules and patterns of the Pleasantville life. Only later, when he realizes that the place is not as ideal as he thought, David he evolves from “dreamy outcast” to “leader of the changes” of Pleasantville.

The Pleasantville surrounding is idealistic but everything pasty – the colors of the environment are black, white and grey. Jennifer, who does what she likes to do, adds new colors to the Pleasantville life. One event leads to the other, and eventually more and more people start to behave and see things differently. The more rules are broken, the more colorful life becomes in Pleasantville. First, a red rose appears on the grey bush, and then there is a pink bubblegum seen in the hallway at school, one girl’s pink tongue, the red hearts of the cards in the bridge hand, etc.

It is interesting that although it was Jennifer, who started the mess in the Pleasantville, she was not the first one to become colorful. In fact, she even began worrying why her changes were so delayed – she questioned her brother upon that, claiming she had more sex than the others in the city, and David reasonably claimed maybe it was not the sex after all. It was not, and the movie shows the true values that made people gain colors in Pleasantville.

The first place to become beautifully colorized is the Lover’s Lane – a place where social norms are broken most often and at the same time a place where true emotions are experienced.

The social changes that take place at Pleasantville generate negative consequences. All the salient (colorful) people are treated with obvious hostility by the “traditional” society. The shops ban the entrance for coloreds, the pasty citizens condemn the new ways young people confess.

There are several allusions to the historical pages of racism and oppression to sexual revolution in the movie. For example, scene copied from “To Kill a Mockingbird” with the people present in the courtroom segregated into black-and-white characters downstairs and “colored” characters upstairs. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Catcher in the Rye” – the two books that Bud (David) narrates to the teenagers of Pleasantville and that are later painted by Mr. Johnson on the wall – are enlisted in the US most widely banned books.

And like in real life, the Pleasantville citizens opposed the salient people and the changes they brought to the social customs and traditions.

Being colorful was unacceptable and shameful. Mrs. Parker was among the first adults to change the color of the skin and she had to apply cosmetics to hide it. When she left her family, she had to stick to those, who were the same as she was. But with more and more people becoming salient, it was easier to cooperate with the oppression.

When Mr. Johnson painted her naked on the soda-shop show-window, the societal outburst was destructive. The common citizens (perceivers) felt the social differences to become inadmissible and destroyed the shop, the library and all the places where colorful people usually stayed.

The perception of social differences first provokes the feeling of isolation, then into confrontation and finally into hatred and even violence sometimes. The movie scenes of crushing the soda-shop windows and the interiors, as well as the burning of books are perfect illustrations of how the perception of social differences turns into hatred.

The black-and-white citizens of the town fight against the “coloreds” and impose rules of conduct that allow the customary for old Pleasantville colors and patterns of behavior, and banning music, non-black-grey-white colors, etc. The process of outcasting the distinct (salient) people was depicted in the court scene through the citizens’ segregation.

The social norms and the processes of social cognition often face complications when new ideas and behavioral patterns emerge, this is when the perceived social differences occur among the salient people and the crowd. The perceivers feel all kinds of emotions from admiration to hostility, while the perceived feel the way they are treated and react correspondingly.

Social differences often provoke hatred or even destructive outbursts. The reasons for such behavior are set deeply in our behavioral patterns and social cognition processes.

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