Spontaneous trait inference: How soon should you judge someone?

As per the psychology dictionary, Spontaneous trait inference means ‘a judgement about a person’s personality traits that are made automatically with no conscious intent.’

According to Jinkyung Na and  Shinobu Kitayama, STI is culture-specific. They stated “People with an independent model of the self may be expected to develop a spontaneous tendency to infer a personality trait from another person’s behavior, but those with an interdependent model of the self may not show such a tendency. We tested this prediction by assessing the cumulative effect of both trait activation and trait binding in a diagnostic task that required no trait inference. Participants first memorized pairings of facial photos with trait-implying behavior. In a subsequent lexical decision task, European Americans showed clear evidence of spontaneous trait inference: When they were primed with a previously studied face, lexical decision for the word for the implied trait associated with that face was facilitated, and the antonym of the implied trait elicited an electrophysiological sign associated with processing of semantically inconsistent information (i.e., the N400). As predicted, however, neither effect was observed for Asian Americans. The cultural difference was mediated by independent self-construal.”

Spontaneous trait inferences (STIs) have usually been made from verbal descriptions of behavior, in the lab. For example, Todorov & Uleman (2003) used a false recognition paradigm to examine the automaticity of binding STIs to representations of actors. Participants under memory instructions viewed 60 pairs of actor photos and trait-implying behaviors (e.g., a woman’s photo with “Alice solved the mystery halfway through the book,” implying that she is clever). Then for a series of phototrait pairs, they judged whether the trait had been explicit in the sentence with that photo. False recognition rates for implied traits paired with actual actors, relative to other actors, measured STIs. STIs occurred with very brief (two-second) initial exposures, when participants’ goal was shallow processing (counting nouns) rather than memorization and when they were under a concurrent cognitive load. These findings suggest that STIs are automatically bound to actor representations.

Simply stated, people automatically makes dispositional attribution for other’s behaviour. For example, if I show you a video in which a person ‘X’ plays a role of a villian, you might have a negative image formed about him in your brain. And again if you see a 2nd video of the same guy ‘X’ distributing food tothe poor in real life, it is still difficult from the observer’s perspective to think him as a nice guy though the first one was part of acting and the 2nd one was of real life.

Even without conscious identity, observers can form impressions of individuals based on observing the individual’s behavior. Research has shown that people can form impressions of others by viewing environmental information (Gosling, Ko, Mannarelli, & Morris, 2002). However, research has not examined whether non-behavioral, environmentally-cued impressions form spontaneously, as they do from behavior-cued impressions. One such non-behavioral source of information that observers may use to form impressions of others is a Facebook profile.

So next time you judge a person, think twice!

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