"Meaningful" social inferences: Effects of implicit theories on inferential processes

Daniel C. Molden*, Jason E. Plaks, Carol S. Dweck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Perceivers' shared theories about the social world have long featured prominently in social inference research. Here, we investigate how fundamental differences in such theories influence basic inferential processes. Past work has typically shown that integrating multiple interpretations of behavior during social inference requires cognitive resources. However, three studies that measured or manipulated people's beliefs about the stable versus dynamic nature of human attributes (i.e., their entity vs. incremental theory, respectively) qualify these past findings. Results revealed that, when interpreting others' actions, perceivers' theories selectively facilitate the consideration of interpretations that are especially theory-relevant. While experiencing cognitive load, entity theorists continued to incorporate information about stable dispositions (but not about dynamic social situations) in their social inferences, whereas incremental theorists continued to incorporate information about dynamic social situations (but not about stable traits). Implications of these results for how perceivers find meaning in behavior are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-752
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2006


  • Attribution
  • Cognitive load
  • Dual processes
  • Implicit theories
  • Inference
  • Social judgment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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