The automatic and co-occurring activation of multiple social inferences

Andrew R. Todd*, Daniel C. Molden, Jaap Ham, Roos Vonk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


People make a variety of automatic inferences when observing others' actions. These include inferences about stable dispositions as well as transitory goal states and social situations. However, models of social inference have rarely considered whether different types of automatic inferences can co-occur. We present three experiments in which participants were incidentally exposed to texts depicting behaviors that afforded inferences about actors' traits and the social situations these actors were experiencing. Results from lexical decision and probe-recognition tasks revealed heightened activation of both trait and situational inferences; furthermore, this co-occurring activation was spontaneous, unconscious, and independent of processing resources or specific impression-formation goals. A fourth experiment extended these findings by showing that when participants were asked to make deliberate attributional judgments of the same set of behaviors, typical goal-directed biases reflecting the selection of either trait or situational interpretations emerged. Implications for social inference processes are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-49
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Attribution
  • Automaticity
  • Person perception
  • Spontaneous inference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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