Spontaneous trait inference and transference: Exploring the link between names and traits

Tânia Ramos, Leonel Garcia-Marques, David Hamilton


Previous research has shown that spontaneous trait inferences (STI) made from behaviors are bound to actor’s faces. Additionally, research has shown that inferred traits can also become associated with the faces of communicators of the behaviors through spontaneous trait transference (STT). In this study, we replaced the actors’ pictures by actors’ names, in order to investigate whether names of actors and communicators (e.g., Carl Smith) can also become attached to inferred traits. Under these conditions, evidence of STIs was obtained, but not of STTs. These results show that the association between traits and communicators (STT) is highly dependent on the visual salience of the communicator. In contrast, STIs occur even when actors are not visually salient. Results are discussed in terms of the processes underlying STIs and STTs.


Spontaneous trait inference, Spontaneous trait transference, Names, Association, Gossipers.

Full Text:



Bargh, J. (1990). Goal≠intent: Goal-directed thought and behavior are often unintentional. Psychological Inquiry, 1, 248-251.

Bassili, J. N. (1989). Trait encoding in behavior identification and dispositional inference. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 15, 285-296.

Brown, R. D., & Bassili, J. N. (2002). Spontaneous trait associations and the case of the superstitious banana. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 87-92.

Carlston, D. E., & Skowronski, J. J. (1994). Savings in the relearning of trait information as evidence for spontaneous inference generation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 840-880.

Carlston, D. E., & Skowronski, J. J. (2005). Linking versus thinking: Evidence for the different associative and attributional bases of spontaneous trait transference and spontaneous trait inference. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 89, 884-898.

Carlston, D. E., Skowronski, J. J., & Sparks, C. (1995). Savings in relearning: II. On the formation of behavior-based trait associations and inferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 420-436.

Chartrand, T., & Bargh, J. A. (1996). Automatic activation of impression formation and memorization goals: Nonconscious goal priming reproduces effects of explicit task instructions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 464-478.

Claeys, W. (1990). On the spontaneity of behaviour categorization and its implications for personality measurement. European Journal of Personality, 4, 173-186.

Crawford, M. T., Skowronski, J. J., Stiff, C., & Scherer, C. R. (2007). Interfering with inferential, but not associative, processes underlying spontaneous trait inference. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 677-690.

Goren, A., & Todorov, A. (2009). Two faces are better than one: Eliminating false trait associations with faces. Social Cognition, 27, 222-248.

Joubert, C. E. (1993). Personal names as a psychological variable. Psychological Reports, 73, 1123-1145.

Orghian, D., Garcia-Marques, L., Uleman, J. S., & Heinke, D. (2015). A connectionist model of spontaneous trait inference and spontaneous trait transference: Do they have the same underlying processes?. Social Cognition, 33, 20-66.

Ramos, T., Garcia-Marques, L., Hamilton, D. L., Ferreira, M., & Van Acker, K. (2012). What I infer depends on who you are: The influence of stereotypes on trait and situational spontaneous inferences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 1247-1256.

Schneider, W., Eschman, A., & Zuccolotto, A. (2012). E-prime user’s guide. Pittsburgh: Psychology Software Tools, Inc.

Skowronski, J. J., Carlston, D. E., & Hartnett, J. L. (2008). Spontaneous impressions derived from observations of behavior: What a long, strange trip it’s been (and it’s not over yet). In N. Ambady & J. J. Skowronski (Eds.), First impressions (pp. 313-333). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Skowronski, J. J., Carlston, D. E., Mae, L., & Crawford, M. T. (1998). Spontaneous trait transference: Communicators take on the qualities they describe in others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 837-848.

Stroessner, S. (1989). Behavior and ratings pool (compilation). Unpublished manuscript. Department of Psychology, Barnard College of Columbia University, New York.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2002). Spontaneous trait inferences are bound to actors’ faces: Evidence from a false recognition paradigm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1051-1065.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2003). The efficiency of binding spontaneous trait inferences to actors’ faces. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 549-562.

Todorov, A., & Uleman, J. S. (2004). The person reference process in spontaneous trait inferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 482-493.

Uleman, J. S., Rim, S., Saribay, S. A., & Kressel, L. M. (2012). Controversies, questions, and prospects for spontaneous social inferences. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6, 657-673.

Wang, L., Bastiaansen, M., & Yang, Y. (2015). ERP responses to person names as a measure of trait inference in person perception. Social Neuroscience, 10, 89-99.

Whitney, P., Davis, P. A., & Waring, D. A. (1994). Task effects on trait inference: Distinguishing categorization from characterization. Social Cognition, 12, 19-35.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.14417/ap.1320


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Nº ERC: 107494 | ISSN (in print): 0870-8231 | ISSN (online): 1646-6020 | Copyright © ISPA - CRL, 2012 | Rua Jardim do Tabaco, 34, 1149-041 Lisboa | NIF: 501313672 | The portal and metadata are licensed under the license Creative Commons CC BY-NC