How Automatic Are Social Judgments?

Laraine Winter, James S. Uleman, Cathryn Cunniff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Do people infer personality dispositions automatically when they encode behavior? Tulving's encoding-specificity paradigm was adapted to test three operational indicants of automatism: absence of intention, of interference from other mental activity, and of awareness. Recruited for a digit-recall study, subjects read sentences describing actions during the retention interval of either an easy or a difficult digit recall task. Later, sentence recall was cued by (a) disposition cues, (b) strong semantic associates to the sentence actor, or (c) words representing the gist of the sentence, or (d) sentence recall was not cued. Awareness was measured immediately after the last sentence was read. Disposition-cued recall was higher than (b) or (d) and was unaffected by digit recall difficulty. Awareness of making dispositional inferences was only weakly correlated with disposition-cued recall. Results suggest that disposition inferences occurred at encoding, without intention, without interference by differential drain on processing capacity, and with little awareness. Thus, making dispositional inferences seems to be largely, but not entirely, automatic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)904-917
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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