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.
- Person perception
- Spontaneous inference
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science