Cultural Differences in Spontaneous Trait and Situation Inferences

Hajin Lee, Yuki Shimizu, Takahiko Masuda, James S. Uleman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous findings indicated that when people observe someone’s behavior, they spontaneously infer the traits and situations that cause the target person’s behavior. These inference processes are called spontaneous trait inferences (STIs) and spontaneous situation inferences (SSIs). While both patterns of inferences have been observed, no research has examined the extent to which people from different cultural backgrounds produce these inferences when information affords both trait and situation inferences. Based on the theoretical frameworks of social orientations and thinking styles, we hypothesized that European Canadians would be more likely to produce STIs than SSIs because of the individualistic/independent social orientation and the analytic thinking style dominant in North America, whereas Japanese would produce both STIs and SSIs equally because of the collectivistic/interdependent social orientation and the holistic thinking style dominant in East Asia. Employing the savings-in-relearning paradigm, we presented information that affords both STIs and SSIs and examined cultural differences in the extent of both inferences. The results supported our hypotheses. The relationships between culturally dominant styles of thought and the inference processes in impression formation are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)627-643
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • culture
  • impression formation
  • savings-in-relearning
  • situation inferences
  • social orientations
  • spontaneous trait
  • thinking styles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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