Dodge's Social Information-Processing Model: The Five Stages

Dodge's Social Information-Processing Model: The Five Stages
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

How do we understand our world and attribute meaning to it? There is a series of five stages that we go through cognitively when we face an event and decide to act on it. Kenneth Dodge called it a Social Information-Processing Model.

Social Information Processing Theory

How do people start to make sense out of day-to-day events? Why is it that different individuals respond differently to the same situation?

Patty is in second grade and was just dropped off at her elementary school. She immediately runs from her parent's side to join her friends watching Tootee, the new turtle class pet. Another student arrives, but he doesn't seem near as excited to join the class. Brian wraps his arms around his mother's leg and doesn't want to leave her side. She has to virtually drag him into the room, while he starts crying and hitting her.

There are many reasons Patty and Brian could act as differently as they do. Things like personality, temperament, upbringing and biology to name a few. But in this lesson, we are going to look at the way these kids think of and make sense out of social events, like being in school.

Dr. Kenneth Dodge was fascinated with the way behavior comes about as a result of one's understanding and interacting with their world. He explained our cognitive processes by creating a theory called social information processing. It states that individuals choose to act a certain way in a given situation through a series of five stages. They include encoding, mental representations, response accessing, evaluation and enactment. Each of these stages is a progression in receiving information from the environment, making sense out of it and then acting.

Stages of Social Information Processing

Stage 1: Encoding

When someone is faced with a certain situation, the first thing they do is encode cues from it in order to have something to interpret. For example, when Brian arrives at school he may observe a few of the boys. He notices they are looking at him and laughing as he hugs his mother's leg. Patty, however, sees cues of peers having fun and enjoying the new pet.

Stage 2: Mental Representations

Once cues in a situation are noticed and focused on, they are given meaning through a person's interpretation of them. Brian interprets the boys' laughter to mean that he is not welcomed and not liked. Patty, however, interprets the happy faces of the girls to mean that she will have fun too when she joins them. When cues are given meaning, they are considered to be mental representations.

Stage 3: Response Accessing

Response accessing refers to physical responses - seen and unseen - that come from mental representations. Brian's physical response was crying and an elevated heartbeat. Patty also had an elevated heartbeat but relaxed muscles due to her contentment. Because Brian's mental representations were different than Patty's, he responded negatively. If he had only focused on other cues in the classroom, like a boy who smiled at him and waved, he also would have had a relaxed response accessing.

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