Context-Dependent Learning in Social Interaction: Trait Impressions Support Flexible Social Choices

Leor M. Hackel, Peter Mende-Siedlecki, Siri Loken, David M. Amodio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How do humans learn, through social interaction, whom to depend on in different situations? We compared the extent to which inferred trait attributes—as opposed to learned reward associations previously examined as part of feedback-based learning—could adaptively inform cross-context social decision-making. In four experiments, participants completed a novel task in which they chose to “hire” other players to solve math and verbal questions for money. These players varied in their trait-level competence across these contexts and, independently, in the monetary rewards they offered to participants across contexts. Results revealed that participants chose partners primarily based on context-specific traits, as opposed to either global trait impressions or material rewards. When making choices in novel contexts—including determining who to choose for social and emotional support—participants generalized trait knowledge from past contexts that required similar traits. Reward-based learning, by contrast, demonstrated significantly weaker contextsensitivity and generalization. These findings suggest that people form context-dependent trait impressions from interactive feedback and use this knowledge to make flexible social decisions. These results support a novel theoretical account of how interaction-based social learning can support context-specific impression formation and adaptive decision-making.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)655-675
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022


  • Context
  • Generalization
  • Learning
  • Reward
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Context-Dependent Learning in Social Interaction: Trait Impressions Support Flexible Social Choices'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this