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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Situated cognition : a lens for exploring behaviour change across contexts DiGiacomo, Alessandra


As theories of situated cognition have been increasingly borne out in the literature, our current understanding of cognition is that it is dynamic and intimately tied to the situational context of the immediate environment. For instance, in the laboratory, participants have a tendency to attend to the location where a cartoon face is looking (Friesen & Kingstone, 1998; Friesen, Moore, & Kingstone, 2005), but very few individuals engage in that same looking behaviour when walking past a stranger in real life (Gallup et al., 2012a). Despite general agreement with the notion that changes in context often invoke changes to cognition and behaviour, decades of research in experimental psychology have been predicated on the assumption that cognition is supported by processes that remain stable across situations (Kingstone, Smilek, & Eastwood, 2008). In the current work, I take the position that when experiments are planned in a way that considers the embedded and situational nature of cognition and behaviour, one can move towards a richer and more thorough understanding of complex real world contexts. Indeed, the situated cognition framework as well as the related ‘nudge theory’ (i.e., the notion that behaviour can be dramatically influenced by subtle changes in context; Sunstein & Thaler, 2008), form the bedrock of my doctoral work. In Chapter 2, I illustrate how a situated approach to cognitive research results in a simple intervention that has important implications for waste management and environmental policy. In Chapter 3, I establish that subtle variations in context can modify the extent to which pro-social behaviours are displayed. In Chapters 4 and 5, I demonstrate that the presence of mobile phones (i.e., technology as situated cognition) is not always a neutral factor when it comes to performance on cognitive tasks. Across these four data chapters and seven empirical investigations, I demonstrate how consideration of the situated cognition framework carries important methodological implications and has the power to uncover cognitive and behavoural effects that may have otherwise been missed.

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