Acknowledging the role of word-based activation in spontaneous trait inferences

Diana Orghian, Tânia Ramos, Joana Reis, Leonel Garcia-Marques


The paper introduces a discussion about a confounder present in studies that explore Spontaneous Trait Inferences (STI). Typically, in these studies, trait-implying behavioral descriptions are employed. When preparing these materials, the main objective is to create sentences that strongly activate personality traits about the actor of the behavior. A potential problem, however, is the possibility of the trait being activated by specific words in the sentence - word-based priming - and not, or not only, by the meaning of the sentence as a whole – a real inference made based on the behavior. Crucially, this aspect has been recurrently ignored in previous research. In the present paper we suggest a way of dealing with this confounder. We created 128 trait-implying sentences and their rearranged versions. The rearranged sentences had the same words as the trait-implying sentences, but the words were rearranged in such a way that the sentences no longer implied the trait. Only if there is a difference between the two versions we can assume there is an inferential process going taking place. We discuss how this aspect may have obscured the interpretation of previous results, and suggest ways for minimizing this problem in future studies.


Inference, Spontaneous trait inference, Word-based activation, Rearranged sentences



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