Do Spontaneous Trait Inferences Influence Behavioral Intentions?

Jessica Reneé Bray, University of Texas at El Paso


Character traits are spontaneously inferred from observing people’s behavior. This inference process is called a spontaneous trait inference. Although spontaneous trait inference effects are robust and well replicated, little research has examined what perceivers do with the inferences they make. A pilot study and two experiments examined whether spontaneous trait inferences led to differences in two behavioral intentions: friending and aggression. The savings in relearning paradigm was used to measure spontaneous trait inferences. Participants were exposed to trait implying descriptions or neutral descriptions of targets. After a filler task, participants completed a social media friending questionnaire and a modified voodoo doll task. They then learned target-trait pairings, completed a filler task, and completed a cued recall measure for the target-trait pairings. Spontaneous trait inferences were found across all experiments. Participants recalled implied traits more than control traits. As predicted, there was consistent support that spontaneous trait inferences led to differences in behavioral intentions. When participants made positive trait inferences, they were more likely to friend those targets on social media (Pilot Study & Experiment 1). Participants were also less likely to friend targets they made negative trait inferences of (Experiment 2). When participants made negative trait inferences, they were more likely to aggress toward those targets by administering “bad shots of karma” in a modified voodoo doll task (all experiments), especially when those targets performed behaviors directed toward the perceiver (Experiment 2). Implications of these results are discussed in the context of stereotype formation and extensions to discrimination.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Web Studies|Experimental psychology|Behavioral psychology

Recommended Citation

Bray, Jessica Reneé, "Do Spontaneous Trait Inferences Influence Behavioral Intentions?" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30493831.